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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said Wednesday he can't guarantee employees have never used sales data from individual third-party sellers to develop the company's own products, despite a policy against that practice and past denials that Amazon engages in it.

Why it matters: Lawmakers and Amazon competitors and sellers have repeatedly hammered the e-commerce giant over accusations that Amazon accesses data on third-party sellers to boost its own house-label products. Bezos is admitting he can't rule out that this has happened.

Context: Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal, whose Seattle district is in Amazon's backyard, pressed Bezos on the issue during a House Judiciary antitrust panel hearing.

  • Jayapal noted press reports that seem to contradict past testimony from Amazon associate general counsel Nate Sutton, who told her the company "does not use specific seller data" when creating its own private label products.

What they're saying: "I can't guarantee you that policy has never been violated," Bezos said, a striking admission that while Amazon does not allow this practice, it may be happening anyway. “I'm not yet satisfied we’ve gotten to the bottom of that."

Of note: Amazon has acknowledged that it does look at aggregate data on third-party sales in the course of developing its own products; its policy is only against singling out sellers.

  • Under questioning from GOP Rep. Kelly Armstrong Wednesday, Bezos said that aggregate data can cover as few as two sellers, as opposed to strictly reflecting broad sales trends across product categories.

What's next: Bezos said Amazon would keep looking at this issue, and his admission ensures Amazon will continue to face major scrutiny over it.

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
Oct 30, 2020 - Economy & Business

The pandemic isn't slowing tech

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Thursday's deluge of Big Tech earnings reports showed one thing pretty clearly: COVID-19 may be bad in all sorts of ways, but it's not slowing down the largest tech companies. If anything, it's helping some companies, like Amazon and Apple.

Yes, but: With the pandemic once again worsening in the U.S. and Europe, it's not clear how long the tech industry's winning streak can last.

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

CES was largely irrelevant this year

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Forced online by the pandemic and overshadowed by the attack on the Capitol, the 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media's attention focused elsewhere.

Why it matters: The consumer electronics trade show is the cornerstone event for the Consumer Technology Association and Las Vegas has been the traditional early-January gathering place for the tech industry.

The FBI is tracing a digital trail to Capitol rioters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Capitol rioters, eager to share proof of their efforts with other extremists online, have so far left a digital footprint of at least 140,000 images that is making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to capture and arrest them.

The big picture: Law enforcement's use of digital tracing isn't new, and has long been at the center of fierce battles over privacy and civil liberties. The Capitol siege is opening a fresh front in that debate.