House panel wants Bezos to testify in antitrust probe

House panel wants Bezos to testify in antitrust probe

By MARCY GORDON AP Business Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — House lawmakers investigating the market dominance of Big Tech are asking Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to testify to address possible misleading statements by the company on its competition practices.

In a letter to Bezos on Friday, leaders of the House Judiciary Committee from both parties are holding out the threat of a subpoena if he doesn’t agree voluntarily to appear.

Amazon used sensitive, confidential information about sellers on its marketplace, their products and transactions to develop its own competing products, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. An Amazon executive denied such a practice in statements at a committee hearing last July, saying the company has a formal policy against it.

If the news report is accurate, Amazon’s statements to the committee “appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false” or constituting perjury, said the letter to Bezos signed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and others. “Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary.”

Amazon spokesmen didn’t comment specifically on the lawmakers’ request to Bezos.

In response to the Journal report, the company said earlier this week, “We strictly prohibit employees from using non-public, seller-specific data” to determine which of its own products to launch. “While we don’t believe these claims made in the Journal story are accurate, we take these allegations very seriously and have launched an internal investigation.”

The Judiciary antitrust subcommittee led by Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., has been conducting a sweeping investigation of Big Tech companies and their impact on competition and consumers, focusing on Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.

The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission also are pursuing antitrust probes of the four companies, and state attorneys general from both parties have undertaken investigations of Google and Facebook.

Amazon has drawn unwanted exposure on several fronts in the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has repeatedly lashed out at the e-commerce giant and Bezos. He has accused Amazon of destroying the U.S. Postal Service by swamping it with packages to deliver, at below-market rates charged by the postal service that are deepening its financial woes. USPS is receiving a $10 billion loan under the government’s pandemic rescue package.

Trump has called The Washington Post newspaper, owned by Bezos, “fake news.” The Post has published critical reports about Trump and his business dealings.

Amazon has sued the government over the Pentagon awarding a $10 billion cloud computing contract to rival Microsoft, alleging that Trump’s frequently expressed animus toward the company and Bezos caused the Pentagon to unfairly award the contract. The Pentagon said in March that it is reconsidering the Microsoft contract.

And on Wednesday, the Trump administration’s trade office for the first time added five of Amazon’s overseas operations to its list of “notorious markets” where pirated goods are sold. Amazon dismissed the move as part of the administration’s “personal vendetta” against it.

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