Lawmakers accuse Amazon of misleading Congress about its business practices

Written by on October 18, 2021

Five House Judiciary Committee lawmakers are threatening to request a Justice Department probe of Amazon, saying the company misled Congress about its business practices in India.

Citing news reports, Reps. Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat; David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat; Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat; Ken Buck, Colorado Republican; and Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, made the accusation in a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy.

“At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon’s representatives misled the committee,” the lawmakers wrote. “At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law.”

The lawmakers’ new scrutiny is based on Reuters’ allegations that Amazon used its website to sell its own products. Reuters accused Amazon of running a “systematic campaign of creating knockoff goods and manipulating search results to boost its own product lines in India.”

Amazon’s reported decision to boost its own products in India have come under fire from lawmakers who say the company’s self-preferencing is inconsistent with executives’ previous testimony that Amazon’s algorithms show customers products that they want to buy.

Amazon has disputed accusations that it misled lawmakers as inaccurate, in response to Reuters.

The lawmakers say Reuters’ claims contradict the testimony of Amazon executives, including Nate Sutton, Amazon associate general counsel, in 2019; former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2020; and Amazon vice president Brian Huseman in 2020.

In an October 2019 letter following a hearing, the lawmakers say Mr. Sutton told them that “Amazon prohibits the use of non-public seller-specific data to inform development of private brand products.”

In a letter after a July 2020 hearing, the lawmakers said Mr. Bezos told them Amazon policy “prohibits the use of anonymized data, if related to a single seller, when making decisions to launch private brand products.”

In October 2020, the lawmakers said that Mr. Huseman testified, “Amazon’s policy does not permit private brands employees to look at the number of sales made by a single seller.”

The lawmakers pointed to these statements as problematic and threatened to ask the Justice Department to pursue a criminal prosecution against Amazon.

“We strongly encourage you to make use of this opportunity to correct the record 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,” read the lawmakers’ letter.

“Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question,” said an Amazon spokesperson in a statement. “As we have previously stated, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond that of any other retailer’s policy that we’re aware of that prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon private label products.”

The Amazon spokesperson said the company investigates any alleged violations of its policy and designs its search experience to feature items people want to purchase regardless of who offers the products.

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