Congressional Committee Torches Amazon for Allegedly Lying to Obstruct Antitrust Probe

Congressional Committee Torches Amazon for Allegedly Lying to Obstruct Antitrust Probe
Photo: Ronny Hartmann/picture alliance, Getty Images

Key members of an influential congressional committee asked the Justice Department to criminally investigate Amazon for alleged obstruction Wednesday after the company allegedly went to great lengths to stall the committee’s recent antitrust probe.

The 24-page letter, describes a damning history of Amazon representatives lying to Congress on multiple occasions, as well as frequent failures to provide requested documentation — including internal audits and communications related to the investigation.

The letter, dated March 9, accuses Amazon of being “caught in a lie and repeated misrepresentations,” and also alleges that the company subsequently “attempted to cover up its lie by offering ever-shifting explanations” of its practices and policies. In one specific case, an executive claimed under oath that Amazon did not use data about specific third-party sellers to inform its own product development. However, former employees told The Wall Street Journal that’s exactly what the company does.

When reached for comment by Gizmodo, an Amazon spokesperson denied the company’s wrongdoing.

“There’s no factual basis for this, as demonstrated in the huge volume of information we’ve provided over several years of good-faith cooperation with this investigation,” the spokesperson said.

According to the letter, Amazon’s lawyers have repeatedly tried to invoke attorney-client-privilege and attorney-work-product-privilege to abstain from sharing requested documents, a defence the committee blasted as “invalid on its face.” Lawmakers said the company has withheld a substantial number of documents “without valid justification.”

The Antitrust Subcommittee of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee spent the last few years investigating claims of anti-competitive practices among the tech industry’s biggest players, namely Amazon, Apple, Meta, and Google. The subcommittee’s dealings with Amazon have been especially combative, according to The Wall Street Journal, as lawmakers sought to determine whether Amazon had used its vast reservoirs of data about third-party sellers to create its own nearly identical products. The company has also been accused of rigging its search engine results to favour its own private-label products over third-party sellers.

The letter paints a picture of an evasive and dishonest company, calling its testimony and statements “inaccurate and misleading.”

Committee members summarized their impressions bluntly, writing, “What Amazon does not appear to take seriously is its obligation to provide truthful and complete responses to Committee inquiries.”

Lying to Congress — under oath or otherwise — can get you in a whole lot of trouble, given that it’s a federal crime. Whether the Justice Department will ultimately pursue an investigation into Amazon’s practices remains unclear, and the Department did comment on the letter to Gizmodo.