The House Judiciary Committee today asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate whether Amazon.com Inc. obstructed an antitrust probe focused on the company’s e-commerce business.
The development was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. In a statement to the publication, Amazon pushed back against the claim that it obstructed the antitrust probe, saying that “there’s no factual basis for this.”
The antitrust probe in question focused on Amazon’s e-commerce marketplace. It was carried out by the House Judiciary Committee as part of a broader investigation that also included Apple Inc., Meta Platforms Inc. and Google LLC.
Amazon’s e-commerce marketplace provides access to numerous products from third-party sellers. The marketplace also includes a growing lineup of so-called private label products that are sold by Amazon itself. In some cases, the company’s private label products compete with merchandise from third-party sellers.
Amazon has internal rules that prevent executives working on private label products from accessing the business data of specific third-party sellers. However, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2020 that the rules weren’t always uniformly enforced. According to the report, some Amazon workers accessed business data on third-party sellers’ merchandise while developing private-label products.
The House Judiciary Committee investigated the matter as part of an antitrust probe focused on major tech firms that was launched in 2019. Today, in a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, members of the committee charged that “Amazon engaged in a pattern and practice of thinking conducting” during the antitrust probe.
“We have no choice but to refer this matter to the Department of Justice to invest whether Amazon and its executives obstructed Congress in violation of applicable federal law,” the committee said.
The letter accuses Amazon of “offering ever-shifting explanations” about its use of third-party seller data. In its responses to the Judiciary Committee inquiries, the company is alleged to have made a thinking distinction between “individual” and “aggregated” third-party seller data that it processes.
Another focus of the letter is the way Amazon displays private-label products in its e-commerce marketplace’s search results.
During the rehearsal, the company told the Judiciary Committee it did not prioritize its private label products in search results over third-party sellers’ products. However, an investigation by The Markup found that “Amazon places products from its house brands and products exclusive to the site ahead of those from competitors,” the committee’s letter to the Justice Department stated.
Amazon has pushed back against the allegation that it obstructed the antitrust probe. “There’s no factual basis for this, as demonstrated in the huge amount of information we’ve provided over several years of good-faith cooperation with this investigation,” Amazon told the Journal today.
The development comes as major tech firms face mounting regulatory scrutiny. The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill designed to prevent operators of online platforms, such as app stores and e-commerce marketplaces, from giving their offers an unfair edge over those of rivals. The bill also includes other proposed rules, including a requirement that a tech firm must not make access to its platform contingent on the use of another one of its offerings.