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Amazon lied about using seller data, lawmakers say, urging DOJ investigation


Amazon lied about using seller data, lawmakers say, urging DOJ investigation

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Amazon lied to Congress about its use of third-party seller data, the House Judiciary Committee said today. In a letter to the Department of Justice, the committee chairs asked prosecutors to investigate the company for criminal obstruction of Congress.

“Amazon lied through a senior executive’s sworn testimony that Amazon did not use any of the troves of data it had collected on its third-party sellers to compete with them,” the letter says (emphasis in the original).

The committee said that not only was Amazon’s sworn testimony knowingly false but that repeated attempts to get Amazon to correct the record or to provide evidence to substantiate its claims were either rebuffed or ignored.

“Amazon has declined multiple opportunities to demonstrate with credible evidence that it made accurate and complete representations,” the letter says. “Amazon’s failure to correct or corroborate those representations suggests that Amazon and its executives have acted intentionally to improperly influence, obstruct, or impede the Committee’s investigation and inquiries.”

Congress held a series of hearings as part of a 16-month antitrust investigation that scrutinized the practices of Amazon, Google parent company Alphabet, Apple, and Facebook, now known as Meta. During those hearings, lawmakers questioned Amazon executives about whether third-party seller data was used to develop private-label products or to privilege its own products in search results.

“We do not use any seller data to compete with [third parties],” Nate Sutton, associate general counsel for competition, told Congress in sworn testimony in July 2019. “We do not use any of that specific seller data in creating our own private brand products.”

Yet as today’s letter points out, subsequent investigations by The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and The Markup revealed that not only did Amazon employees working on private-label items have access to third-party data, but they routinely used it, even discussing it openly in meetings. “Amazon employees regularly violated the policy—and senior officials knew it.”

After reading those reports, Congress gave Amazon a chance to correct the record or provide evidence that would corroborate the testimonies. Instead, Amazon denied that there were any problems. The company said that the reports from The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and The Markup were “inaccurate” and contained “key misunderstandings and speculation.”

Amazon’s lawyers told lawmakers in subsequent communications that the company said that it had performed an internal investigation that didn’t find any evidence of employees misusing third-party seller data. Amazon also said that the site’s search engine didn’t prioritize its own products. Amazon’s attorneys refused to hand over documents related to the internal investigation.

“Without producing any evidence to the contrary, Amazon has left standing what appear to be false and misleading statements to the Committee. It has refused to turn over business documents or communications that would either corroborate its claims or correct the record. And it appears to have done so to conceal the truth about its use of third-party sellers’ data,” the letter said.

“As a result, we have no choice but to refer this matter to the Department of Justice to investigate whether Amazon and its executives obstructed Congress in violation of applicable federal law.”



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