On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House Judiciary Committee asked the Justice Department to probe whether or not Amazon illegally impeded the committee’s antitrust investigation into the company.
During the committee’s 16-month long probe that ended in 2020, the company engaged in “potentially criminal conduct,” the representatives said in a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. That top Amazon executives lied to the committee suggests that the company was attempting to “influence, obstruct, or impede” the investigation, the committee continued.
Throughout the investigation, “Amazon repeatedly endeavored to thwart the Committee’s efforts to uncover the truth about Amazon’s business practices,” the lawmakers wrote. “For this, it must be held accountable.”
Impeding on a congressional inquiry or investigation amounts to an obstruction of Congress, which is a federal crime. Amazon has denied that it lied during the investigation.
Lawmakers, including committee chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) and antitrust subcommittee vice chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington), say that executives have painted a rosy picture of its internal practices regarding data collection. The company’s testimony describing its internal policies was “ever shifting,” the lawmakers said.
While Amazon executives denied that the company was using data from third-party sellers to compete with them, testimony from Amazon employees and reporting has revealed that the company has in fact done exactly that, in order to create products that would compete with other sellers.
Amazon employees regularly violated the company’s supposed “Seller Data Protection Policy,” making a distinction between individual data on sellers versus aggregated data for the company to use. Lawmakers said that company officials were aware that employees were violating the policy.
Reporters have found that Amazon prioritized its own products in customer search queries, the committee said, despite the company claiming that it didn’t do so.
Lawmakers gave the company the opportunity to correct its previous misleading statements, but the company doubled down. “After Amazon was caught in a lie and repeated misrepresentations, it stonewalled the Committee’s efforts to uncover the truth,” the letter says.
“The Committee gave Amazon a final opportunity to provide evidence either correcting the record or corroborating the representations it had made to the Committee under oath and in written statements,” the lawmakers said. “Instead of taking advantage of this opportunity to provide clarity, however, Amazon offered conclusory denials of adverse facts.”
As a result of the committee’s investigation, the lawmakers called for stricter regulation of Amazon and other large companies like Facebook and Google. Their 449-page report said that tech behemoths have turned into “the kinds of monopolies we last saw in the era of oil barons and railroad tycoons” that abuse their power to create anti-competitive conditions. Wednesday’s referral is an escalation of actions against Amazon as it faces scrutiny from members of both major political parties.
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