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Congress asks DOJ to investigate Amazon for obstructing inquiry

The company has obstructed an investigation into its practices, the letter states

Congress wants the DOJ to investigate Amazon over antitrust violations
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Several members of the US House Judiciary Committee have sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland raising concerns that the e-commerce giant is obstructing an antitrust investigation into its practices. The lawmakers claim that Amazon did not provide the information requested as part of the investigation and want the Department of Justice to investigate “whether Amazon and its executives obstructed Congress in violation of applicable federal law.”

The letter claims that Amazon “engaged in a pattern and practice of misleading conduct that suggests it was acting with an improper purpose to influence, obstruct, or impede the Committee’s investigation and inquiries,” the letter states.

At issue is whether Amazon lied to the committee about its use of third-party seller data in the creation of its own white-label brands and whether the company gives priority to its own products over competitors’ in search results on its website. Amazon executives have denied the practices, but investigations by The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and The Markup found that Amazon did favor its own products in search results even when a third-party product might be better-rated and used information from third-party sellers to develop competing products, the letter notes.

“It appears to have done so to conceal the truth about its use of third-party sellers’ data to advantage its private-label business and its preferencing of private-label products in search results — subjects of the Committee’s investigation,” according to the letter, which was signed by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), House Antitrust Subcommittee chair David Cicilline (D-RI), and Reps. Ken Buck (R-CO), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA).

Amazon spokesperson Tina Pelkey said in a statement emailed to The Verge that there was “no factual basis” for the letter, “as demonstrated in the huge volume of information we’ve provided over several years of good faith cooperation with this investigation.”

In his testimony before the judiciary committee in a July 2020 antitrust hearing, then-Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said that the company had “a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private label business, but I can’t guarantee that policy has never been violated.”