Jeff Bezos says he “cannot guarantee” that Amazon did not use third-party data to profit

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Jeff Bezos has admitted he can’t guarantee that Amazon hasn’t used third-party seller data for the benefit of his own business – an admission that will spark new controversy over the ecommerce giant’s business practices.

In his very first testimony to Congress, Bezos was asked about a recent report claiming that Amazon used this data to make its own competing products.

The investigation by the le journal Wall Street found that some Amazon executives had access to seller data which was then used to uncover top-selling items. He added that these executives had found a way to avoid the company’s restrictions on the practice, a solution known as “crossing the fence.”

On Wednesday, Mr Bezos, along with Apple boss Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai, were questioned by members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on antitrust.

Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, whose district includes Seattle, where Amazon is headquartered, pointed out the WSJ report and testimony given last year by the company’s associate general counsel Nate Sutton, who said Amazon does not use “specific seller data” when producing its own items.

“We have a policy against using vendor-specific data to help our private label business,” said Mr. Bezos, 58, the richest man in the world. “But I cannot guarantee you that this policy has never been violated. ”

Pressed on the issue, Mr Bezos said he was reviewing the newspaper’s report. “I’ll take this as you don’t deny it,” said Ms. Jayapal, who has often criticized Amazon for its treatment and payment of workers, and its efforts to avoid paying federal taxes in the United States.

At the heart of the audience was whether the giants had just grown too tall and too powerful and needed to go their separate ways.

The evidence gathered by members of the House of Representatives represents the most serious antitrust scrutiny of the tech industry since the 2000 hearings against Microsoft, which the government accused of abusing its monopoly position. Microsoft initially lost the case, but won on appeal and agreed to a settlement that saw it agree to share some of its software with third-party companies.

Mr. Bezos wasn’t the only tech boss with some tough questions. Committee Chairman David Cicillin, beginning his comments by accusing Google of theft.

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Speaking to Mr Pichai, he said, “Why is Google stealing content from honest companies? ”

Mr Cicillin alleged that Google stole reviews from Yelp Inc and said Google threatened to remove the company from search results if objected.

Mr Pichai said he wanted to know the details of the charge. “We conduct ourselves to the highest standards,” he added.

Mr Zuckerberg was asked about Facebook’s purchase of Instagram in 2012 and whether it was acquired because it was a threat. He said the deal was reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission and that Instagram at the time was a tiny photo-sharing app rather than a social media phenomenon. “People didn’t think they were competing with us in this space,” he said.

For several Republicans on the panel, the hearing was an opportunity to accuse technology companies of being “anti-conservative”.

“Big tech is trying to attract conservatives,” Congressman Jim Jordan said.

At one point, Mr. Zuckerberg found himself questioned about Twitter’s actions, an incident which suggested that some of the committee members made little distinction between different social media platforms.

In particular, he was questioned by committee-ranking Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner about the temporary restriction of Mr. Trump Jr.’s Twitter account, after posting a video featuring controversial doctor Stella Immanuel, making false claims about coronavirus remedies and stating that people “No need for masks”. Where the tweet was posted now reads: “This Tweet is no longer available because it violated Twitter rules.” ”

Mr Sensenbrenner said he would not personally take hydroxychloroquine to counter the coronavirus – a drug that most medical experts believe could be harmful but which the President and Ms Immanuel continue to promote, but asked if any such decision should be left to a person and his doctor. .

“There is still a debate about its effectiveness in treating or preventing Covid-19,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

Mr Zuckerberg replied, “Well first of all to be clear I think what you are referring to happened on Twitter so it’s hard for me to talk about it but I can talk of our policies in this regard. ”

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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