GOP senator wants Barr to launch criminal investigation into Amazon

Greg Nash

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is calling on Attorney General William Barr to launch a criminal antitrust investigation into Amazon over reports that it used data from third-party sellers on its platform to develop competing products.

“Abusing one’s position as a marketplace platform to create copycat products always is bad, but it is especially concerning now,” Hawley wrote in a Tuesday letter to Barr.

“Thousands of small businesses have been forced to suspend in-store retail and instead rely on Amazon because of shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon’s reported data practices are an existential threat that may prevent these businesses from ever recovering.”

Justice Department spokesperson Alexei Woltornist confirmed to The Hill that the letter was received and is being reviewed.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week, citing interviews with 20 former employees of Amazon’s private-label business and a review of documents, that the online retail giant used the information from other sellers to price items, determine which features to copy or whether to enter a product segment based on its earning potential.

Amazon has repeatedly said, including before a House Judiciary Committee hearing last year, that it does not use information from third-party sellers when it makes and sells its own products.

The company said in a statement that it “strictly prohibits” employees from using nonpublic information when developing other products.

“Like other retailers, we look at sales and store data to provide our customers with the best possible experience,” a spokesperson for Amazon told The Hill last week. “However, we strictly prohibit our employees from using nonpublic, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch.”

Amazon’s private-label business, launched in 2007, includes more than 45 brands with roughly 243,000 products, including AmazonBasics and Stone & Beam furniture.

Hawley’s call for an antitrust investigation into Amazon is not without precedent.

The European Union’s top antitrust regulator said last year it was probing whether Amazon was gaining an advantage from its dual role as a marketplace operator and seller of its own products.

The Justice Department, Federal Trade Commission and Congress are also all conducting antitrust investigations of large technology companies, including Amazon.

Hawley is not the only lawmaker to slam Amazon following the Journal’s report. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.)  said in a statement last week that the “report raises deep concerns about Amazon’s apparent lack of candor before the Committee regarding an issue that is central to our investigation.”

“At best, Amazon’s witness appears to have misrepresented key aspects of Amazon’s business practices while omitting important details in response to pointed questioning,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee, said in a statement. “At worst, the witness Amazon sent to speak on its behalf may have lied to Congress.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted that the Journal’s report provides further support for her call to break up big tech companies.

“This is exactly what happens when you let a giant company be both the umpire and a player in the game,” she said.

Updated at 10:31 a.m.

Tags Amazon antitrust Criminal investigation David Cicilline Elizabeth Warren Jerrold Nadler Josh Hawley William Barr
See all Hill.TV See all Video