May 1, 2020 - Technology

Lawmakers threaten to compel Bezos to testify in antitrust probe

Illustration of a beat-up looking Amazon box, with their logo upside down in a frown
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A bipartisan group of House Judiciary lawmakers is demanding Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos testify before them following a Wall Street Journal report detailing his company's use of third-party sellers' data to develop competing in-house products.

Why it matters: Amazon has been a lifeline for many people during the coronavirus pandemic, but the company remains the target of multiple antitrust probes — and has invited fresh scrutiny with revelations like those chronicled in the Journal.

Driving the news: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, antitrust subcommittee chairman David Cicilline, subcommittee ranking member James Sensenbrenner, and others threatened to compel Bezos to testify in a letter Friday.

  • "It is vital to the committee, as part of its critical work investigating and understanding competition issues in the digital market, that Amazon respond to these and other critical questions concerning competition issues in digital markets," the lawmakers wrote. "Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary.”
  • Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Yes, but: Despite some bipartisan support, other Republicans on the committee are skeptical. Rep. Jim Jordan, House Judiciary's ranking member, did not sign the letter.

  • “Of course our members have questions for Amazon and want to get answers for the American people," Russell Dye, spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee Republicans, said in a statement. "But we wonder what Judiciary Democrats’ true motivations are. Earlier this year, they said companies like Amazon should not exist and should be broken up simply because they are large successful businesses."

Background: During a hearing last summer as part of the committee's antitrust investigation, Amazon associate general counsel Nate Sutton said the retail giant didn't use individual third-party sellers' data to develop products that competed directly with the sellers.

  • But the committee questioned whether Amazon misled lawmakers after The Wall Street Journal reported that employees of the e-commerce giant used data about independent sellers to develop competing products.
  • Amazon told WSJ that while it looks at sales and store data like other retailers, employees are strictly prohibited from using nonpublic, seller-specific data to develop private products to launch. It said it's investigating the matter internally.
“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."
— House Judiciary lawmakers

The big picture: Lawmakers are investigating Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook for potential anti-competitive practices, amid other antitrust investigations at the state and federal level. The House investigators are also reviewing whether changes are necessary to existing antitrust laws.

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