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House Judiciary Committee calls on Bezos to testify as part of antitrust probe

House Judiciary Committee calls on Bezos to testify as part of antitrust probe
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Members of the House Judiciary Committee are calling on Amazon CEO Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosBlue Origin takes one small step toward being a competitor to SpaceX Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize Hillicon Valley: Twitter lacked adequate cybersecurity protection ahead of July hacks, regulator says | Twitter, Facebook clamp down on New York Post article about Hunter Biden | YouTube bans COVID-19 vaccine misinformation MORE to testify before the panel over concerns his deputies may have misled Congress in testimony about their use of data from third-party sellers. 

In a letter sent to Bezos on Friday, the lawmakers cited a Wall Street Journal report that said the company had used sensitive business data from third-party sellers on the website to create competing products.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers — which include Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMarijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court MORE (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Jim SensenbrennerFrank (Jim) James SensenbrennerRepublicans call for Judiciary hearing into unrest in cities run by Democrats Scott Fitzgerald wins Wisconsin GOP primary to replace Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner Hillicon Valley: House panel grills tech CEOs during much anticipated antitrust hearing | TikTok to make code public as it pushes back against 'misinformation' | House Intel panel expands access to foreign disinformation evidence MORE (R-Wis.), David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineJustice Department charges Google with illegally maintaining search monopoly Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL MORE (D-R.I.), Ken BuckKenneth (Ken) Robert BuckThe rhetoric of techlash: A source of clarity or confusion? Hillicon Valley: Congressional antitrust report rips tech firms | Facebook tightens ban on QAnon content | Social media groups urged to weed out disinformation targeting minority voters Congressional antitrust report rips tech firms for stifling competition MORE (R-Colo.), Joe NeguseJoseph (Joe) NegusePocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Races heat up for House leadership posts Trump backs bill to establish suffragist monument in DC MORE (D-Colo.), Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzCongressional antitrust report rips tech firms for stifling competition Loeffler tweets edited video showing Trump taking down coronavirus in wrestling match Why is Florida screaming about the pay-to-vote system it created? MORE (R-Fla.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalOcasio-Cortez, progressives call on Senate not to confirm lobbyists or executives to future administration posts Pocan won't seek another term as Progressive Caucus co-chair Poll shows Biden leading Trump, tight House race in key Nebraska district MORE (D-Wash.) — raised concerns that Amazon associate general counsel Nate Sutton may have lied to Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee in July when he asserted the company does “not use their individual [seller] data when we’re making decisions to launch private brands.”

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“If these allegations are true, then Amazon exploited its role as the largest online marketplace in the U.S. to appropriate the sensitive commercial data of individual marketplace sellers and then used that data to compete directly with those sellers,” they wrote to Bezos, who has never testified before Congress.   

“Amazon has responded to this report by describing the Amazon employees’ conduct as a violation of its formal policy against the use of non-public, individual seller data. The report, however, details that Amazon employees described pulling competitors’ data as ‘standard operating procedure’ when making products such as electronics, suitcases, sporting goods or other lines.”

The lawmakers are reserving the right to issue a subpoena if Bezos does not voluntarily testify.

“Pretty straight forward. Amazon reps made suspicious statements that might be lies,” Gaetz told The Hill. “We want Bezos to come discuss.”

While members on both sides of the aisle are calling for Bezos to appear before the panel, not all members are on board. 

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“Jeff Bezos has been Cicilline’s white whale this entire time,” one source familiar with the investigation told The Hill.  “He'll do anything, including launch various allegations about the company to get a ... political spectacle.” 

Amazon did not respond to requests for comment on the committee's request.

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.

The reporting seems to directly contradict testimony by Sutton, who when asked by Jayapal about practices like those detailed in the Journal’s story said that “we do not use any seller data to compete with them.”

In response to a follow-up question from Cicilline, Sutton testified that “we do not use their individual data when we’re making decisions to launch private brands.”

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A spokesperson for Amazon told The Hill that the company "strictly prohibit[s] employees from using non-public, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch."

"While we don’t believe these claims made by the Wall Street Journal are accurate, we take these allegations very seriously and have launched an internal investigation." 

Amazon began making its own products in 2007, starting with the Kindle e-reader.

Its private-label business now includes more than 45 brands with roughly 243,000 products, including Amazon Basics and Stone & Beam furniture.

The House Judiciary Committee, along with the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission, are already conducting antitrust investigations of large technology companies, including Amazon.

The lawmakers wrote in their letter to Bezos that his compliance would be “vital to the Committee, as part of its critical work investigating and understanding competition issues in the digital market, that Amazon respond to these and other critical questions concerning competition issues in digital markets.”

Tension between Amazon operating the retail platform and selling products on it has already drawn antitrust scrutiny elsewhere.

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.

--Updated at 4:20pm