House panel calls Bezos to testify on Amazon data use

Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos has been called to testify before the US House of Representatives judiciary committee regarding claims that his company misled Congress about how it used data on independent sellers.

Members of the House committee, and a subcommittee investigating anti-competitive behaviour, said they expected Mr Bezos to appear voluntarily, though they suggested they could force him to do so by issuing a subpoena if needed.

The demand, sent in a letter to Mr Bezos on Friday, cited a recent Wall Street Journal report alleging that Amazon used sensitive information about third-party sellers on its platform to influence its own product decisions. The report, which the newspaper said was based on conversations with more than 20 former Amazon employees, allegedly contradicted congressional testimony last July from Amazon associate general counsel Nate Sutton, the committee said in its letter.

“If the reporting in the Wall Street Journal article is accurate, then statements Amazon made to the Committee about the company’s business practices appear to be misleading, and possibly criminally false or perjurious,” the members wrote to Mr Bezos.

They added: “Although we expect that you will testify on a voluntary basis, we reserve the right to resort to compulsory process if necessary.”

The committee said its concerns were bolstered by other investigative reports, as well as the European Commission’s investigation into similar alleged conduct launched in 2018.

In July’s congressional hearing, Mr Sutton responded to questions about how Amazon might leverage the insights it gets from the millions of third-party sellers that use the company’s marketplace to sell their own goods.

“We do not use any seller data to compete with them,” Mr Sutton told the committee, later adding: “We do not use their individual data when we’re making decisions to launch private brands.”

Amazon has not yet commented on the committee’s demand.

“Like other retailers, we look at sales and store data to provide our customers with the best possible experience,” the company said in an earlier statement in response to the Wall Street Journal report.

“However, we strictly prohibit our employees from using non-public, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch.”

Amazon’s stock was down more than 7 per cent. The letter came a day after the company revealed that it anticipated spending about $4bn on coronavirus-related costs in its next quarter, which could potentially push it into its first loss since 2014.

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