By Matt Ott and Marcy Gordon | The Associated Press
House lawmakers are threatening to call for a criminal investigation of Amazon, saying the tech giant has a “last chance” to correct previous testimony from its executives about its competition practices.
Lawmakers sent a letter Monday to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, ââsaying they were giving the company until November 1 to “fix the record” and provide new documents and evidence. The missive marks an escalation in the bipartisan battle against Amazon by the House Judiciary Committee panel that investigated Big Tech’s market dominance.
The letter says the antitrust subcommittee is considering sending the case back to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. He accuses the world’s largest online retailer of at least misleading Congress and possibly lying outright.
He cites recent news articles detailing Amazon’s alleged practice of undermining companies that sell on its platform by making “fakes” or very similar products, and bolstering their presence on the site.
The reports directly contradict sworn testimony from Amazon executives and other statements to Congress, the letter said. It was signed by the chairman of the judiciary committee, Jerrold Nadler, DN.Y., and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the antitrust panel.
“We strongly encourage you to take this opportunity to correct the case and provide the Committee with sworn, truthful and accurate responses to this request as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate,” said the letter.
Jassy took over from Seattle-based Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in July. Bezos became executive chairman.
Amazon has denied that its executives misled the panel in their testimony.
“Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record of the inaccurate news reports in question,” the company said in a statement. “As we have stated previously, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond that of any other retailer to our knowledge, which prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon private label products.”
Amazon said it investigates any allegations of violations of its policies and takes “appropriate action” when warranted.
âIn addition, we design our research experience to showcase the items that customers will want to purchase, whether offered by Amazon or one of our sales partners,â the statement said.
Amazon’s third-party marketplace, with independent merchants listing millions of their products on the site, represents a significant portion of the company’s business. It has around 2 million sellers in its marketplace, and Amazon said more than half of the products sold on Amazon.com come from third-party sellers. It also makes money by charging fees to third-party sellers, generating tens of billions in revenue.
Already in a May 2020 letter to Bezos, the subcommittee threatened to subpoena if Bezos did not voluntarily agree to appear before the panel.
The Wall Street Journal then reported that Amazon was using sensitive and confidential information about sellers in its marketplace, their products and their transactions to develop its own competing products. An Amazon executive denied such a practice in statements at a subcommittee hearing in July 2019, saying the company had a formal policy against it.
The letter to Bezos said the statements by Amazon attorney Nate Sutton appeared to be “misleading and possibly criminally false” or constituting perjury.
Bezos testified on the matter during an appearance at a July 2020 hearing into Big Tech’s alleged monopoly practices with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
Responding to claims that Amazon used data generated by independent sellers on its platform to compete with them, Bezos said at the time that it would be “unacceptable” if those claims were true.
The panel’s new letter to Jassy also cites testimony from Sutton, who denied that the company used vendor data to compete with them or help create their own private label products. Sutton said the site’s algorithms were “optimized to predict what customers want to buy regardless of the seller.”
One of the news stories cited in the letter quotes a former Amazon employee: âI used to pull data from sellers to see what the best products were when I was there.
The letter made it clear that the committee believed the media reports and not the testimony of Amazon officials. “Each of these investigative reports is inconsistent with the sworn testimony and the many statements made by Amazon executives,” he said.
The District of Columbia sued Amazon in May in antitrust action, accusing the company of anti-competitive practices in its treatment of sellers on its platform. The practices have raised prices for consumers and stifled innovation and choice in the online retail market, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit maintains that Amazon has set retail prices online through contractual provisions that prevent merchants selling their products on Amazon.com from offering them at lower prices or on better terms on any other platform. online form, including their own websites. Amazon has dismissed the allegations.