Commentary

Bezos Will Testify Before House Subcommittee If Conditions Are Met

Amazon indicated yesterday that Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO, would be willing to testify before a House subcommittee that is conducting an antitrust investigation of the tech industry if “a number of questions regarding timing, format, and outstanding document production issues” are resolved. 

It would be Bezos’ first appearance before Congress.

Amazon attorneys also stated in a letter sent Sunday that “we think it bears emphasizing that other senior executives now run the businesses that are the actual subject of the Committee’s investigation.”

The Seattle-based online bookseller-turned-corporate-megalith “had resisted making [Bezos] available … prompting lawmakers to threaten to legally compel Mr. Bezos to testify. The panel is likely to question Mr. Bezos, the world’s richest person, about claims that Amazon boxes out small businesses, abuses its power and mistreats warehouse workers,” David McCabe writes  for The New York Times in breaking the story.

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“The chief executives of the other companies under investigation by lawmakers -- Apple, Facebook and Google -- have all testified at various points in recent years on other matters. The House Judiciary Committee has been pushing for them to return to testify in front of its investigation, too,” McCabe adds.

“It is unclear if those companies have agreed to dispatch their top executives” -- Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai  -- and all three did not respond to requests for comment Monday,” writes  Tony Romm for The Washington Post, which is owned by Bezos.

The hearings “[come] at a time when members of Congress have expressed anger over reports that Amazon employees tapped data from third-party sellers in the company’s marketplace to make decisions about launching its own competing products. Company executives told Democrats and Republicans that it did not engage in such practices,” Romm adds.

The Wall Street Journal’s Dana Mattioli wrote an extensive story about that alleged practice in April. 

Meanwhile, “Amazon is under the magnifying glass in several simultaneous probes in the U.S. and in Europe. European Union regulators are expected to reveal formal charges against Amazon in the coming weeks. … The Federal Trade Commission and some state attorneys general are also investigating Amazon’s retail marketplace, warehouse work conditions and other parts of its business,” writes  NPR’s Alina Selyukh.

“In addition to in-person testimony, the committee has been seeking reams of documents about the firms’ business practices, including emails from Mr. Bezos and other tech leaders. Lawmakers say they are trying to determine whether they need to pass new laws to ensure giant technology companies don’t improperly foreclose competition in digital markets,” Ryan Tracy writes for The Wall Street Journal.

“In the June 14 letter, Amazon’s lawyer stated that … the company has turned over many pages of documents, but ‘remains deeply concerned that you cannot assure that the most sensitive corporate documents reflecting business strategy and other competitively sensitive information would be withheld from [Amazon’s] many competitors,’” Tracy adds.

“The year-long probe has already included five public hearings, along with massive document requests from the four companies. At its conclusion, the subcommittee will issue a report on its findings, which may include recommendations for updates to antitrust law,” Jason Del Rey writes for Recode.

“These findings, and potential recommendations, could put pressure on regulators such as the Federal Trade Commission to take legal action against Amazon in an effort to change the way it does business or to potentially break up certain parts of its business from one another. They could also lead to new antitrust laws that would more tightly control the practices of the dominant online tech platforms,” Del Ray continues.

“The testimony of CEOs and the production of internal documents is essential to complete this bipartisan investigation into the state of competition in the digital marketplace,” maintained House antitrust subcommittee chairman David Cicilline, who is leading the probe, in a statement yesterday cited  by CNBC’s Annie Palmer. “The antitrust subcommittee will continue to use the tools at our disposal to ensure we gather whatever information is necessary for our work.”

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