Lawmakers question whether top Amazon executives lied to Congress

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Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

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Five members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy questioning whether the company’s top executives misled Congress or lied under oath as part of a broad investigation into competitive practices at big tech companies.

Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., David Cicilline, D-R.I., Ken Buck, R-Colo., Pramila Jayapal, D-Calif., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., on Sunday requested Amazon provide “exculpatory evidence” to corroborate previous testimony and statements provided by then-CEO Jeff Bezos and other executives to the committee in 2019 and 2020. The lawmakers said Jassy must respond by Nov. 1.

The lawmakers pointed to “recent, credible reporting,” from Reuters, the Markup, the Wall Street Journal, and others, on Amazon’s private-label practices and its collection of third-party seller data that directly contradict testimony from Bezos and Amazon executives.

“At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon’s representatives misled the committee,” the lawmakers wrote. “At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law.”

The lawmakers said they’re also considering whether they will refer the matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation.

An Amazon spokesperson denied that the company and its executives misled the committee. The spokesperson added that the company has “denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question.”

The spokesperson said Amazon has internal policies prohibiting the use of individual seller data to develop private-label products and it doesn’t favor private-label products in search results.

The House Judiciary Committee in 2019 opened an investigation into the competitive practices of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. As part of its probe into Amazon, the committee has looked at how the company uses data from the third-party sellers on its platform and whether it unfairly favors its own products.

In a series of hearings during the investigation, Amazon executives defended the company’s business practices. Amazon associate general counsel Nate Sutton testified in July 2019 that Amazon does not use individual seller data to inform its strategy, but maintained that it does use aggregated data that could give it a sense of how a product category is performing. Following the hearing, Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky reaffirmed several of Sutton’s claims.

When he testified in July 2020, Bezos said Amazon has a policy that safeguards seller data from employee access, noting that it prohibits the use of individual seller information for the purpose of launching private-label products.

“If we found someone violated it, we would take action,” Bezos said at the time.

The Journal reporting found Amazon employees used nonaggregated or easily identifiable data from third-party sellers to figure out which products to make. Amazon executives also developed workarounds to Amazon’s internal restrictions to gain access to individual seller data, as part of a practice dubbed “going over the fence,” the Journal reported. Amazon said at the time it didn’t believe the claims were accurate.

Cicilline and other lawmakers have previously questioned whether Sutton misled Congress during his testimony in 2019.

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