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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Amazon and peers eBay and Etsy are waging a lobbying war to scuttle bills pushed by brick-and-mortar retailers who want to require their online rivals to disclose more information about third-party sellers.

Why it matters: Online shopping became a lifeline for consumers and businesses during the pandemic, and lawmakers say that makes fighting online fraud and theft even more important.

What's happening: Bills in Congress and at the state level, known as INFORM acts, aim to force Amazon and other e-commerce sites to verify the identity of their third-party sellers and disclose some contact information about the sellers to consumers.

  • Supporters of the legislation — including Home Depot, Walgreens and other major retailers that have formed the Buy Safe America Coalition — say the new measures are necessary to help deter online sales of stolen and counterfeit goods.
  • But Amazon, Etsy, eBay and other online marketplaces have argued the proposals could hurt sellers' privacy and are being pushed by big box stores to give them an advantage over their online competitors.

What they're doing: Online marketplace leaders have launched their own coalitions to fend off the legislation.

  • The Amazon-backed Internet Association, which also counts Facebook and Google as members, is funding the Makers and Merchants Coalition, which started about 6 weeks ago with an initial focus on statehouses that has expanded to the federal level. This group argues the laws would hurt small sellers trying to supplement their income during the pandemic.
  • "When you look at the unintended consequences of sellers trying to choose between their privacy and their safety and their livelihood, the result is you’re going to have fewer sellers online — and that really just benefits the Walmarts and Home Depots and the Lowes," Alexis Marvel, a spokesperson for the group told Axios.
  • Amazon spent $4.8 million on lobbying in the first quarter of this year, including tapping Jeff Ricchetti, the brother of White House adviser Steve Ricchetti, to lobby the Hill on the INFORM Consumers Act, as well as other measures.

Meanwhile, Etsy, eBay, Poshmark and other platforms formed their own Coalition to Protect America's Small Sellers as a way to distinguish what they say are their heightened privacy concerns from those of the bigger players. For example, Etsy says 97% of its sellers operate out of their homes.

The online marketplaces notched a win when senators failed to hitch the legislation to a China-focused competition bill that passed the Senate this week.

  • "Like many other companies, including online retailers and small businesses that sell online, we had concerns with attaching controversial legislation pushed by big-box retailers to the broader China bill," an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. "The INFORM Act favors large brick-and-mortar retailers, at the expense of small businesses that sell online, while doing nothing to prevent fraud and abuse or hold bad actors accountable."

At least 17 states have considered similar legislation, and online marketplace groups are quick to point out that the only state that has passed a bill has been Arkansas, home of Walmart.

The other side: Retailers and other members of the Buy Safe America Coalition are trying to spotlight and counter the growing problem of stolen and counterfeit goods during the pandemic, Michael Hanson, spokesperson for the Buy Safe America Coalition and lead federal lobbyist for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, said.

  • California law enforcement busted an alleged retail theft operation in San Francisco last year and recovered $8 million in stolen merchandise from stores like CVS and Target.
  • A 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office found that 20 out of 47 items purchased from third-party sellers on popular sites were counterfeit.
  • “If you look at arguments that this bill could harm small sellers, the thing that harms small sellers is competing against criminal sellers" offering products below market price, Hanson said.

What to watch: With the China competition bill heading to the House, lawmakers have another opportunity to attach the language to the legislation.

Go deeper: Brick and mortar businesses fear competition from online shopping

Go deeper

Main Street retail fears grow

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Owners of independent brick-and-mortar businesses have a bleak outlook of the competitive threat posed by online shopping.

Driving the news: A new survey of local U.S. retailers published by Shopify Thursday shows that 82% of respondents agree that major online marketplaces are making it more difficult to operate.

3 hours ago - World

Canada First Nation finds mass grave at another school site

A memorial around the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on June 4, honoring 215 Indigenous children found buried in an unmarked, mass grave at a one-time residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Photo: David Kawai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A First Nation in Canada said Wednesday "hundreds" of unmarked graves have been discovered at the site of a former residential school in the prairie province of Saskatchewan.

Of note: The Cowessess First Nation said in a statement the number of graves found are "the most significantly substantial to date in Canada" — suggesting it's more than the remains of 215 Indigenous children discovered last month at a former residential school site in Kamloops, British Columbia.

Biden replaces FHFA director after Supreme Court ruling

Mark Calabria, then-director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill in 2020. Photo: Astrid Riecken/ Pool/Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday replaced the regulator who oversees mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, hours after a Supreme Court ruling enabled President Biden to oust the Trump appointee.

Why it matters: The removal of libertarian economist Mark Calabria as Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) director gives Biden more control over the fate of Freddie and Fannie, "which play an outsize role in the housing market and are central to many homeowners' ability to afford homes," per the New York Times.