Amazon and fellow technology empires Google, Facebook and Apple have all sat in the hot seat, answering pointed questions from lawmakers in a high-profile anti-trust inquiry. Now, thanks to the Tuesday release of responses, the public can see how the tech sector defended itself.
The questions came from the chair of the House Antitrust Subcommittee, Rep. David N. Cicilline (Dem.-R.I.) in September.
The Amazon portion, in particular, could cue skeptics in the retail community to dig in and scrutinize the claims, as they seem to cut to the heart of some deep-seated suspicions about how its marketplace operates.
For instance, the company railed against accusations that it intentionally pits its own house products against those of third-party sellers in its marketplace. According to Amazon, the way it treats merchants is based on wanting to offer consumers more choices, lower prices and easy delivery.
As for questions about AmazonBasics, the e-tailer explained that private-label items are common in retail, and said that, in general, it doesn’t treat brands differently based on the brands’ owners.
Some other salient details from the released responses:
• Contended that its algorithms for delivering shopping results don’t differentiate Fulfillment By Amazon merchants from Amazon’s house products.
• Maintained that it prohibits house brands deciding on product launches, pricing or inventory based on individual seller data.
• Minimized the notion that it prioritizes Google services.
• Refuted the idea that it commands an outsize share of online search or digital advertising.
• Claimed that, while it did restrict some third-party developers from using the social platform, access to the data wasn’t dependent on their spending on advertising. (Though notably, that’s what documents in another lawsuit indicated.)
• Justified cutting off the Vine app in 2013 because it “replicated Facebook’s core News Feed functionality.”
• Disputed that it bars competitive apps, citing several App Store offerings for web browsing, maps, music and video.
• Explained that fixing certain devices isn’t possible, because of how they’re manufactured. To try would risk “significant” damage.
• Said that users couldn’t remove the iPhone’s Safari or set a different default browser, because it’s part of the operating system and a core part of the phone’s functionality.
The questions went on further, and the inquiry is not done yet. The committee also demanded records on company acquisitions and other business practices, as well as top-level communications, among other things. Some of those responses are still pending.
The scrutiny on how Silicon Valley and cohorts do business so far is just the tip of the spear. Efforts at the federal and state levels have ratcheted up official probes, zeroing in on Facebook and Google, especially.
As for the timing of this revelation, in some ways, it may work in the tech companies’ favor, as other developments in the House take center stage. Many of the headlines, livecasts and broadcasts focus on ongoing impeachment inquiry testimony.