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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.

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.