In his first time before Congress on Wednesday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos faced pointed questions about his company’s business practices — and had few, if any, answers.
At times seeming flustered or unprepared, Bezos demurred, deflected, and deferred questions from lawmakers, claiming he didn’t know specifics about the basic way in which his company works.
If he were testifying on his own, he might have been forced to face intense scrutiny, but surrounded by his fellow Big Tech CEOs at Congress’ hearing, Bezos got off easy. Wednesday’s unfocused hearing gave the billionaire the perfect opportunity to skate by — and he took it.
Bezos was called before the House Judiciary Committee after a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed Amazon was using third-party seller data to undercut its own sellers. Amazon reportedly used that information to create rival products to outperform its so-called partners.
That flew in the face of previous testimony by an Amazon representative last year, who told Congress that Amazon wouldn’t use data to undermine its third-party sellers.
But when pressed by lawmakers to answer yes or no if Amazon used data to battle its third-party partners, Bezos couldn’t answer. He said Amazon was still investigating the report — which was published three months ago.
“We continue to look into that very carefully,” he said. “I’m not yet satisfied we’ve gotten to the bottom of it and we’re going to keep looking at it.”
Bezos said the company had a policy against such a practice … but also said he “can’t guarantee” the policy was never violated.
As lawmakers paraded forward allegations from third-party sellers that Amazon undercut their business — like a textbook seller who said Amazon muscled the company out of their marketplace — Bezos said they didn’t represent a broader trend at the e-commerce giant.
It wasn’t just third-party sellers where Bezos dodged. When asked if Alexa pushed Amazon products over other brands, Bezos said: “It wouldn’t surprise me if Alexa sometimes does promote our own products.” But again, he wouldn’t confirm it.
He couldn’t explain which goods Amazon deemed essential during pandemic-related restrictions earlier this year and whether Amazon kept its own products flowing as competitors were blocked from selling.
He didn’t know what Amazon required of sellers. Real names? Addresses? Phone numbers? He couldn’t be sure. And Bezos couldn’t say how Amazon would verify sellers’ information that they did require.
As Apple’s Tim Cook, Google’s Sundar Pichai, and even Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg cooly deflected away questions, Bezos floundered.
But Bezos barely felt the heat. Since all four Big Tech CEOs were present for the same hearing, lawmakers were forced to bounce around from topic to topic, witness to witness.
Sure, Bezos did little to answer the questions swirling around Amazon’s alleged anti-competitive practices, but the House committee members rarely pressured him.
As Congress debates whether to regulate or even break up the tech giants, it’s unlikely Wednesday’s hearing did much to change anyone’s mind.
Bezos’s dodges kept him from digging Amazon into any deeper trouble. Perhaps that was a good enough win for Amazon.