In the Washington Post: “Lawmakers question whether Amazon misled congressional panel about its business practices”

From a Washington Post story by Taylor Telford and Cristiano Lima headlined “Lawmakers question whether Amazon misled congressional panel about its business practices”:

In the wake of new reports about Amazon’s data practices, members of a congressional panel are questioning whether company executives misled them in testimony and have given the company two weeks to provide documentation supporting their statements, according to a letter lawmakers sent the tech giant.

The letter dated Monday and addressed to chief executive Andy Jassy asked Amazon for “exculpatory evidence” to corroborate testimony its executives, including founder Jeff Bezos, provided to the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel regarding the use of data from third-party sellers. Otherwise, they said, the matter may be referred to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. (Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

“At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon’s representatives misled the Committee,” Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said in the letter, referring to recent investigations by the Reuters news agency and the Markup, a data journalism nonprofit. “At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress.”

Last year, House Judiciary leaders questioned whether an Amazon executive misled Congress during a 2019 hearing about how the tech giant uses data it collects from third-party sellers. The session was part of a sweeping investigation into whether Amazon and other digital behemoths are squelching competition online. The standoff arose after the Wall Street Journal reported in April 2020 that Amazon employees had used such data to launch competing products, which the company has disputed.

The lawmakers demanded that then-CEO Bezos testify about the issue and threatened to issue a subpoena. He voluntarily testified at a blockbuster hearing alongside the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Apple in July 2020.

When lawmakers pressed Bezos on Amazon’s handling of user data at the hearing, the tech mogul said that while the company does have a policy “against using seller-specific data to aid our private-label business,” he couldn’t “guarantee” that it has never been violated. Still, the two sides staved off a major legal confrontation over the matter at the time.

But a series of new reports on Amazon’s data practices in recent weeks have reignited concerns that the company may have misled the panel in past sworn testimony. A federal referral by House lawmakers to the Justice Department, which they are now threatening, would dramatically escalate the standoff.

The e-commerce giant has until Nov. 1 to provide documents and evidence to “clarify” its past testimony.

“We strongly encourage you to make use of this opportunity to correct the record and provide the Committee with sworn, truthful, and accurate responses to this request,” lawmakers wrote.

In a statement Monday emailed to The Post, an Amazon spokesman said that the company and its executives did not mislead the committee and that reporting calling its practices into question was “inaccurate.”

“As we have previously stated, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond that of any other retailer’s policy that we’re aware of, that prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon private label products,” Amazon said in a statement. “We investigate any allegations that this policy may have been violated and take appropriate action.”

Amazon declined to comment on whether it would comply with the request for corroborating evidence.

Taylor Telford is a reporter covering national and breaking news. Cristiano Lima is a business reporter and author of The Washington Post’s Technology 202 newsletter, focusing on the intersection of tech, politics and policy. He previously served as a breaking news reporter and tech policy reporter for Politico.

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