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Sen. Josh Hawley calls for criminal antitrust investigation into Amazon

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) is calling for the Department of Justice to start a criminal antitrust investigation into Amazon. 

Hawley stated in a letter written to Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday that Amazon “has engaged in predatory and exclusionary data practices to build and maintain a monopoly.”

“Amazon abuses its position as an online platform and collects detailed data about merchandise so Amazon can create copycat products under an Amazon brand,” Hawley added in the letter. “Internal documents and the testimony of more than 20 former Amazon employees support this finding.”

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that Amazon used data from third-party sellers to launch competing products.

Hawley also mentioned that Amazon has used the coronavirus pandemic to leverage power over smaller businesses. 

“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,” he wrote. 

Amazon sign on warehouse
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An Amazon spokesperson told Digital Trends that they prohibit employees from using seller-specific data.

“As we told the Wall Street Journal, we strictly prohibit employees from using non-public, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch,” the spokesperson said. “While we don’t believe these claims made by the Wall Street Journal are accurate, we take these allegations very seriously and have launched an internal investigation.”

Digital Trends also reached out to the Department of Justice for comment on whether a probe is moving forward. We will update this story when we hear back.

While the senator’s statement is the first time Amazon has been singled out for a potential antitrust investigation, it’s not the first time the tech giant has been involved in antitrust talk. 

In July 2019 the Department of Justice announced a broad antitrust review into the country’s biggest tech companies, including Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Apple. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took it a step further when in February, it issued Special Orders to five big tech companies. The FTC is asking Alphabet (Google’s parent company), Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft to detail acquisitions they made between 2010 and 2019, and to explain their purpose for acquiring individual companies. 

Amazon owns Whole Foods, has its own video streaming service, music streaming service, and a widely used cloud computing platform, Amazon Web Services.

If the retail giant were ever to be broken up, Amazon could have to give up these separate entities and go back to its original form as a marketplace, as opposed to selling its own products. That could drive up prices since Amazon could no longer offer massive discounts on products it owns, like a Ring security system.

Amazon’s owner, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post.

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