Amazon founder Jeff Bezos received flak during the virtual anti-trust hearing by the US House Judiciary Committee for the alleged access and use of third-party seller data by his employees to develop the company’s own products. While he stressed on having the policy to keep a check on that but he didn’t guarantee about its violation. “We have a policy against using seller specific data to aid our private label business but I cannot guarantee to you that that policy has never been violated,” Bezos said on Wednesday in reply to a question by Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal. Around six-and-a-half-hour-long hearing, live-streamed by CNBC, grilled Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, and Sundar Pichai from Google apart from Bezos over their practices for market domination.
Jayapal had raised question that whether Amazon ever accesses or use third-party seller data when making business decisions. In April 2020, The Wall Street Journal had reported that Amazon’s employees had accessed and used data of third-party sellers on Amazon to develop competing products even as the company has claimed that it doesn’t use such data for creating or selling its products. “We continue to look into that very carefully. I’m not yet satisfied that we’ve gotten to the bottom of it, and we’re going to keep looking at it,” Bezos added.
Jayapal alleged quoting a former Amazon employee telling the Committee that while the rule is there but nobody enforces or does spot-checking. The Congresswoman asked Bezos whether Amazon’s category managers have access to non-public data for third party products and businesses. To this, Bezos replied that Amazon trains people on the policy and expects them to follow that policy the same it would with any others. “The fact that we have such a policy is voluntary. I think no other retailer even has such a policy,” he added in his reply.
Citing interviews with former employees and “credible reporting” documenting breaches of rules, Jayapal said that Amazon has access to data that far exceeds the sellers’ on its platforms with whom it competes. She continued saying that Amazon can track consumer habits, interests, even what consumers clicked on but then didn’t buy. Jayapal added that the company has access to the entirety of sellers’ pricing and inventory information of the past, present, and future and that it dictates the participation of third-party sellers on the platform. “So, you can set the rules for the game for your competitors but not actually follow the same rules for yourself. Do you think that’s fair to third party mom and pop businesses trying to sell on your platform?”
Even before Bezos started to properly address Jayapal’s question saying that he is very proud of what Amazon has done for third party sellers, he was cut short by the Congresswoman due to paucity of time. “if you are continuously monitoring the data to make sure that they are never going to get big enough that they can compete with you, that is actually the concern that the committee has.” Jayapal, lastly, stressed on regulating marketplaces like Amazon to ensure “that no company has a platform so dominant that it is essentially a monopoly.”