'Possibly criminally false or perjurious': Congress wants Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to testify about alleged predatory business practices

If recent reports are true, Amazon's recent statements to Congress about its business practices appear to be 'misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious,' lawmakers wrote

Griffin Connolly
Friday 01 May 2020 21:19 BST
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Congress has some questions for Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.

The House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Mr Bezos on Friday asking him to appear before the panel after the Wall Street Journal reported last week that Amazon has used sensitive business information from third-party sellers on its platform to develop competing products.

Amazon associate general counsel Nate Sutton denied the company engaged in such practices during sworn testimony before the Judiciary panel's antitrust subcommittee in July 2019.

“If the reporting in the Wall Street Journal article is accurate, then statements Amazon made to the Committee about the company’s business practices appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious," Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and six other members on the congressional panel wrote in their letter to Mr Bezos.

Amazon used the sensitive information on third-party vendors' products to make a host of business and product decisions for its own private label of goods, including whether to replicate certain features of a third-party product in its own product line, how to price items, and even whether to begin making a certain product based on its earning potential, the Journal reported after conducting interviews with more than 20 current or former employees.

For example, Amazon employees pulled information on third-party car trunk organisers and seat cushions and within a year had developed their own products.

"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," the lawmakers wrote to Bezos.

Support for grilling Mr Bezos about his company's alleged predatory practices span the political spectrum.

Among the co-signatories of the letter were Mr Nadler, a Democratic impeachment manager from New York; Trump-aligned Congressman Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida; and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chairwoman Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, who was a surrogate for Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign.

Mr Nadler has not subpoenaed Mr Bezos' testimony before the panel.

But the letter on Friday dangles a subpoena threat.

"Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary," the lawmakers wrote.

Amazon has previously testified to Congress on numerous occasions that it does not engage in the predatory practices outlined in the Wall Street Journal report.

At a hearing on 16 July 2019, Ms Jayapal asked Mr Sutton about Amazon's use of third-party seller data.

Mr Sutton responded that the company does "not use any seller data to compete with them."

When the antitrust subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline asked a follow-up question, Mr Sutton said, "We do not use their individual data when we're making decisions to launch private brands."

The Judiciary panel's request for a hearing with Mr Bezos is part of its larger ongoing investigation into Amazon's role in the digital marketplace. For the last three years, Amazon has accounted for more than one of every three online sales in the US.

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