Amazon may have lied to Congress about its business practices, lawmakers say

Five members of the House Judiciary Committee have accused (PDF) Amazon’s top executives of either misleading or blatantly lying to it about its business practices and said they are considering an investigation following publication of two damning reports last week.

Reuters and the Markup reported last week that Amazon uses the data of third-party sellers on its platform to inform and create its private-label products. Both the outlets also noted that Amazon then gives preference to its own portfolio over those of the rivals when customers look up products.

The letter, addressed to Amazon chief executive Andy Jassy, says it’s offering Jassy “a final opportunity to provide exculpatory evidence to corroborate the prior testimony and statements on behalf of Amazon to the Committee.”

In the letter, the lawmakers also said the committee is considering whether it would be appropriate to refer the Department of Justice to launch a criminal investigation into the subject.

“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 as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate,” reads the letter.

In the letter — signed by Pramila Jayapal, David Cicilline, Ken Buck, Jerrold Nadler and Matt Gaetz — lawmakers have said that recent reporting in several outlets “directly contradicts the sworn testimony and representations of Amazon’s top executives — including former CEO Jeffrey Bezos.”

Last year, Bezos didn’t give a specific answer during his antitrust hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Here is what I can tell you. We do have certain safeguards in place. We do train people and we expect people to follow that policy as they would any other,” he said at the time, adding, however, that he couldn’t “guarantee you that policy has never been violated.”

Amazon, grappling with way too many controversies to document at this point, said it has not “mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question.”

Despite the company’s denials, too many people through their actions have suggested that they don’t believe the company. Last week, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren called for breaking up Amazon.

The Reuters report, which relies on thousands of internal Amazon documents, states that Amazon “ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs and manipulating search results to boost its own private brands in India.”

The report adds that the move was part of a formal strategy at Amazon. “These investigations are consistent with prior reports,” the letter reads.

“In one example, Amazon replicated a popular brand of shirts, copied the measurements of the shirt ‘down to the neck circumference and sleeve length,’ and then partnered with the manufacturer of the product to produce a version of similar quality. As Amazon’s internal document noted, ‘It is difficult to develop this expertise across products and hence, to ensure that we are able to fully match quality with our reference product, we decided to only partner with the manufacturers of our reference product,'” the letter reads, citing Reuters’ report.

ADIF, a group of over 300 startups and entrepreneurs in India, condemned Amazon last week for its “predatory platform of copying, rigging, and killing Indian brands,” and called for the government to intervene.