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Bipartisan Committee Says Amazon May Have Obstructed Investigation

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Amazon is reportedly facing new accusations in an ongoing House Judiciary Committee investigation into alleged breaches of antitrust laws. The investigation in question started back in 2019 and involved more than just Amazon. It also included Apple, Google parent Alphabet, and Meta — at the time, Facebook. With similar investigations occurring elsewhere in the world as well.

This latest run of accusations from the bipartisan committee is leveled only at Amazon. In a letter reported by The Wall Street Journal, the committee has now asked for a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice. The request seeks to call out purported obstruction of justice on the part of Amazon. And on the part of some workers in leadership roles at the company.

Amazon provided testimony with regard to its use of third-party seller data. Specifically, with regards to its policy disallowing staff to utilize data taken from individual sellers in order to make Amazon-branded competing products. But, the group claims, Amazon refused to provide any “business documents or communications” documentation. That’s to either corroborate its claims or correct the record on the claims.

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Further, the committee says Amazon’s refusal was part of a concerted effort to conceal the truth of the matter. Namely, the group claims that Amazon concealed the truth “about its use of third-party sellers’ data to advantage its private-label business.” And, of course, including to the advantage of its preference for showing its “private-label products” in search results.

Amazon denies misconduct but what’s going to happen with the investigation?

Now, the request for an investigation from the House Judiciary Committee to the Department of Justice doesn’t necessarily mean that Amazon will ultimately be charged. At the very least, not with obstruction. The investigation requested is, itself, intended to determine whether Amazon could be culpable in a chargeable crime.

For Amazon’s part, the company’s founder and previous CEO Jeff Bezos discussed the policy with the committee back in 202o. According to Mr. Bezos, the company’s policies don’t allow staff to use third-party sellers’ data for the purpose of creating competing products. But he also indicated that Amazon can’t guarantee those policies haven’t “been violated.”

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Other executives also indicated, at the time, that the practice of effectively copying other company’s products via third-party seller data and then promoting those in search results doesn’t happen.

To the latest allegations, Amazon spokespersons have been quoted in statements denying those too. The company says that there’s “no factual basis” for the allegation of obstruction. It also says that it has demonstrated that with “the huge volume of information” it has provided over “several years of good faith cooperation.”