US House representatives say they are ready to call upon the Department of Justice to investigate whether Amazon executives, including ex-CEO Jeff Bezos, lied to Congress about whether the internet giant unfairly uses customer data to create and market its own products.
Employees in India were accused of keeping tabs on which products sold by third-party vendors proved to be popular among buyers, and then developing competing Amazon-branded versions. Amazon then rigged its product search results to unfairly promote its own products and crush competition on its Indian website, judging from internal documents.
Those files, obtained by Reuters, go against previous statements and testimonials Amazon executives and founder Bezos gave a House Judiciary subcommittee on antitrust. In a hearing in July 2020, the billionaire space tourist said Amazon’s own policy “prohibits the use of anonymized data, if related to a single seller, when making decisions to launch private brand products.”
Amazon’s Associate General Counsel Nate Sutton in a hearing a year earlier said: “We do not use any seller data for – to compete with them.” He also said Amazon did not “use any of that specific seller data in creating our own private brand products,” and it does not manipulate search rankings to boost these rival goods.
Now subcommittee chair David N. Cicilline (D-RI) and vice-chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), along with Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and others, reckon Congress has been misled by the e-commerce giant or lied to. “At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon’s representatives misled the committee," the lawmakers wrote in a letter [PDF] dated today to Amazon’s new CEO Andy Jassy. "At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law."
They urged Jassy to submit fresh evidence to show the American mega-corp isn’t lying about copying competitors’ products and bumping up its own-brand versions in search results, or face a potential criminal investigation from the Department of Justice.
“In light of the serious nature of this matter, we are providing you with a final opportunity to provide exculpatory evidence to corroborate the prior testimony and statements on behalf of Amazon to the Committee. 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," the letter continued.
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A separate report by The Markup showed the Bezos-built empire regularly ranks Amazon-labelled goods above third-party sellers even if they had worse customer ratings and sales. For example, its own-brand coffee grinder, cereal, and vacuum cleaner popped up when customers searched for these items even when competing versions were more popular.
Amazon has until November 1 to respond to the House Reps' letter. The corporation's PR folk did not immediately respond to The Register’s request for comment. ®