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US senator calls for criminal investigation into Amazon

By Lawrence Gash

Senator Josh Hawley accuses tech giant of ‘predatory and exclusionary data practices’

Missouri Senator Josh Hawley has called for a criminal antitrust investigation into the ecommerce giant 0'>Amazon (AMZN) over its use of third-party sellers’ data.

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, the Republican politician alluded to increasing concerns first covered by the Wall Street Journal. These were that Amazon employees looked into the sales data of independent sellers in order to develop its own competing, private label products.

Hawley stated: “These practices are alarming for America’s small businesses even under ordinary circumstances. But at a time when most small retail businesses must rely on Amazon because of coronavirus-related shutdowns, predatory data practices threaten these businesses’ very existence.”

While much of the US economy has suffered as a result of the widespread Covid-19 lockdowns, Amazon has gone from strength to strength.

At the same time as unemployment has surged to its highest level since the Great Depression, Amazon has hired tens of thousands of additional workers to meet increased demand. With physical stores shuttered and Americans ordered to stay home, ecommerce has flourished.

Amazon’s share price fell 2.01 per cent by mid-afternoon Tuesday trading (GMT), though it still stands up more than 25 per cent on the year to date.

Hawley, who is also the former attorney general of Missouri, stated: “Antitrust law imposes criminal penalties on companies that try to acquire or maintain monopoly power. Amazon's data practices, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, appear to meet that description. Amazon abuses its position as an online platform and collects detailed data about merchandise so Amazon can create copycat products under an Amazon brand."

It is unclear to what extent the US government will seek to pursue the senator’s complaint. Amazon is one of the five mega-cap stocks which President Donald Trump has dubbed “the one trillion dollar club”. These now account for 20 per cent of the S&P 500’s total market cap.

With the US recovery from the Covid-19 impact only just starting, there may be little appetite for an investigation into one of the key firms driving this growth.

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