Amazon’s Reportedly Fielding Probes From California, Washington State Over Trade Practices

Photo:  Ina Fassbender, Getty Images
Photo: Ina Fassbender, Getty Images

Officials in California and Washington State are investigating Amazon’s business practices with a focus on whether the tech giant abuses its power over third-party sellers on its online marketplace, according to reports from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

Amazon’s been facing increasing antitrust scrutiny from both the U.S. and abroad over how the company aggregates data from these sellers and purportedly gives its own products an unfair advantage. Per another recent Journal report, the European Union is planning to file formal charges against Amazon over this alleged exploitation and anti-competitive practices. A U.S. senator has called for the Department of Justice to launch a similar inquiry into the company’s algorithmic monopoly.

According to internal correspondence viewed by the Times, the Washington attorney general’s office is in the preliminary stages of planning a probe that would examine whether Amazon makes it more difficult for sellers to list their products elsewhere online. Brionna Aho, a spokeswoman for Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, told the Times that the office does not confirm nor deny investigations.

In California, people familiar with the matter told the Journal that the state’s review would scrutinize how the tech giant handles promoting and selling its own products in competition with third-party sellers. Amazon has openly admitted to collecting data from the millions of sellers on its platform, and a WSJ probe recently found that Amazon employees then use this data to better develop competing products under its own private brand.

While the office of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra declined to comment, when asked about the company back in December, Becerra told the Journal that, “It would be hard to believe that you’re not going to look at a company like Amazon, given how pervasive it is. Are they using all of this data in ways that allow them to essentially kill real competition?”

Amazon did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. In addition to these charges of plagiarizing the competition, Amazon also has a well-documented history of headaches with counterfeit products and dubious manufacturers running rampant on its online marketplace.