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1 May, 2020 18:19

Bezos ordered to testify in Congress, as Amazon accused of 'possibly criminally false' statements on business practices

Bezos ordered to testify in Congress, as Amazon accused of 'possibly criminally false' statements on business practices

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been ordered to testify before Congress by the House Judiciary Committee, which has accused the corporation of lying about its private labeling practices to cover up possible antitrust violations.

In a letter the committee sent to Bezos on Friday, the e-commerce behemoth is accused of making "misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious statements" in previous testimony before the judiciary. Citing Amazon's sworn testimony that it "does not use any seller data to compete with [third-party merchants]," the committee contrasted those claims with a recent Wall Street Journal investigation that, having interviewed 20 Amazon employees, found the opposite to be the case.

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Asking Bezos to testify "on a voluntary basis," the committee hinted that it "reserve[s] the right to resort to compulsory process, if necessary." It reminded the CEO that a request for "documents and communications related to Amazon's relationship with sellers, including…use of third-party sellers' data" made seven months previously in the course of the committee's antitrust probe had not been satisfactorily fulfilled.

The letter slammed Amazon for exploiting its dominant role in the e-commerce market to "appropriate the sensitive commercial data of individual marketplace sellers" and using it to compete with them directly. It noted that the activities alleged in the Journal article are "bolstered by other investigative journalism, as well as the preliminary findings of the European Commission," which launched its own antitrust probe against Amazon last year.

The company did not just deny using third-party sellers' data once, the committee reminded Bezos – its executives made the claim multiple times, both in written and spoken testimony, accumulating quite a potential pile of falsehoods.

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In a letter to Attorney General William Barr earlier this week, Senator Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) demanded a criminal antitrust probe of Amazon, citing the same Wall Street Journal investigation. He accused the corporation of using "predatory and exclusionary data practices to build and maintain a monopoly."

Amazon is already the subject of multiple federal- and state-level investigations and is also being probed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – as are Facebook, Apple, and Google. However, Bezos is the only one of the 'big four' tech CEOs who has not previously testified before Congress. The executive accused of making false statements is Amazon's associate general counsel, Nate Sutton.

Despite the many probes targeting the mammoth tech corporations, however, punishments have been few and far between – in the US, at least. Facebook was fined US$5 billion last year by the FTC, and Google was ordered to pay US$170 million by the same body for violating children's privacy on YouTube.

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