by Chris White
Sen. Josh Hawley wants a criminal antitrust investigation into Amazon after a recent report suggested the company’s employees are taking competitors’ data to develop similar products.
Amazon represents an “existential threat” to small American retailers, the Missouri Republican wrote in a letter Tuesday to Attorney General William Barr. Hawley is one of Silicon Valley’s most stringent critics over the past two years as he and others poke and prod federal authorities to turn their sights on Google and Amazon over antitrust issues.
“Abusing one’s position as a marketplace platform to create copycat products always is bad, but it is especially concerning now,” Hawley wrote.
He added: “Thousands of small businesses have been forced to suspend in-store retail and instead rely on Amazon because of shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon’s reported data practices are an existential threat that may prevent these businesses from ever recovering.”
Hawley referenced an April 23 Wall Street Journal report showing that employees used data from third-party sellers to create competing products, a practice Amazon has repeatedly denied doing. Amazon’s accumulation of competitors’ data during a pandemic is helping to create a monopoly, he said.
“Like other retailers, we look at sales and store data to provide our customers with the best possible experience,” Amazon said in a statement to TheWSJ at the time. “However, we strictly prohibit our employees from using nonpublic, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch.”
CEO Jeff Bezos, meanwhile, is reportedly taking over the company’s day-to-day operations amid the pandemic, which originated in Wuhan, China, and is responsible for killing more than 160,000 people worldwide. Amazon has not responded to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about Hawley’s letter.
Silicon Valley is attempting to use a coordinated response to the coronavirus pandemic as a way of creating goodwill to shake off critics. Americans are relying more and more on Amazon for products they would typically acquire from brick-and-mortar businesses that were forced to close after governors and mayors began enacting economic lockdowns to slow the pandemic.
This bottleneck effect where smaller distributors fall away while Amazon meets demand is not going unnoticed.
“There are really two Americas right now,” Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at the New York University Stern School of Business, told The Washington Post on Monday. “There is Big Tech and there is everyone else. They can do what very few companies can do, which is play offense in the middle of a pandemic.”
The virus took some of the heat off Amazon and Google, among other giants that faced antitrust investigations.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is among a cadre of 33 attorneys general who are engaging in a broad investigation into the industry. Paxton, a Republican, is leading the charge and accused Google in February of delaying the case as the company tries to prevent officials from bringing in outside consultants.
Google competitors said the company uses its technology and power to squeeze out the competition while favoring its own product. The company’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of DoubleClick in 2007 helped bolster the company’s foothold in advertising technology.
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Chris White is a reporter at Daily Caller News Foundation.
Background Photo “Amazon Warehouse” by Scott Lewis. CC BY 2.0.