Five U.S. lawmakers accuse Amazon of possibly lying to Congress following Reuters report

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LONDON, Oct. 18 (Reuters) – Five members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee wrote to the CEO of Amazon.com Inc. on Sunday about the practices.

The letter also states that the committee is considering “whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate.”

Addressed to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, ​​the letter followed a Reuters investigation last week that showed the company had carried out a systematic campaign of product copying and research rigging in India to boost sales. sales of its own brands – practices that Amazon has denied engaging in. Longtime Amazon executive Jassy took over from Bezos in July.

The letter says that “credible reports” in the Reuters article and recent articles in several other news outlets “directly contradict the sworn testimony and representations of senior Amazon executives – including former CEO Jeffrey Bezos “.

“At best, this report confirms that Amazon officials misled the Committee. At worst, it shows that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law,” he added. . letter States.

In response, an Amazon spokesperson issued a statement saying, “Amazon and its executives have not misled the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media reports in question. “

He added: “As we 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 branded products. Amazon Privacy Policy. We are investigating any allegations that this policy may have been violated and taking appropriate action. “

Since 2019, the House Judiciary Committee has been investigating competition in digital markets, including how Amazon uses proprietary data from sellers on its platform and whether the company unfairly promotes its own products. .

In sworn testimony before the Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee last year, Bezos said the company prohibited its employees from using data about individual sellers for the benefit of its own private label product lines. At another hearing in 2019, Nate Sutton, associate general counsel for Amazon, said the company does not use this data to create its own branded products or modify its search results to benefit them.

Asked at the 2019 Congressional hearing if Amazon is changing algorithms to direct consumers to its own products, Sutton replied, “Algorithms are optimized to predict what customers want to buy regardless of the market. seller.”

The lawmakers’ letter gives Jassy “one last opportunity” to provide evidence to corroborate the company’s previous testimony and statements. He also notes that “it is criminally illegal to knowingly and willfully make statements which are materially false, to cover up material fact or to provide false information in response to a congressional investigation.”

It gives the CEO until November 1 to provide a sworn response to clarify “how Amazon uses data from individual non-public sellers to develop and market its own line of products” and how Amazon’s search rankings promote those products .

He is also asking for copies of all documents mentioned in the Reuters inquiry of October 13.

“We strongly encourage you to take 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,” indicates the letter.

The Reuters investigation was based on thousands of pages of internal Amazon documents, including emails, strategy documents and business plans. They showed that at least in India, Amazon had a formal, underground policy of manipulating search results to favor Amazon’s own products, as well as copying other sellers’ products – and at least two executives superiors of the company had examined it.

In response to the Reuters report, Amazon said: “We believe these claims are factually incorrect and unfounded.” The company did not specify. The company said the way it displays search results does not favor private label products.

The lawmakers’ letter also cites other recent articles in the Markup, Wall Street Journal, and Capitol Forum on Amazon’s private label products and the use of seller data.

The letter’s sharp wording reinforces the rhetoric between Washington and Big Tech. Companies like Amazon, Facebook Inc, Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc Google are under increasing scrutiny in Washington, Europe and other parts of the world, fueled by concerns from regulators, lawmakers and consumer groups that companies have too much power and engage in unfair practices that harm other companies.

The lawmakers’ letter was signed by a bipartisan group and included the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Democrat Jerrold Nadler, and four members of the antitrust subcommittee – its chairman, Democrat David Cicillin, Vice President Pramila Jayapal and Republicans. Ken Buck and Matt Gaetz.

On Wednesday, following the publication of the Reuters inquiry, U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading Amazon critic, called for the company to be dissolved. In India, a group representing millions of traditional retailers has urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to take action against Amazon.

Reporting by Steve Stecklow in London, Aditya Kalra in New Delhi and Jeffrey Dastin in Palo Alto; Editing by Peter Hirschberg

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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