Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, by far the richest man in the world, framed himself and his multinational conglomerate as examples of the American dream in prepared remarks to Congress on Wednesday—remarks that it took the House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee months and months to extract.
Bezos provided a brief capsule biography for members of the subcommittee on antitrust somehow not familiar with his life story, mentioning how his mother became pregnant with him as a teenager, his adoptive father was a Cuban refugee, and his grandparents were ranchers in Texas. As a plucky young investment banker, Bezos says, he decided to take a risk on himself, following the great tradition of American capitalism.
“Unlike many other countries around the world, this great nation we live in supports and does not stigmatize entrepreneurial risk-taking,” Bezos said in opening remarks during Wednesday’s large tech antitrust hearing. “It feels like just yesterday I was driving the packages to the post office myself, dreaming that one day we might be able to afford a forklift.”
From there, Bezos largely positions Amazon as a trustworthy driver of American business and a ladder for personal and corporate growth, providing jobs and opportunities to millions of Americans. He also highlighted several success stories, all small businesses.
“The very nature of that business is getting products to customers,” he said. “Those operations need to be close to customers, and we can’t outsource these jobs to China or anywhere else. To fulfill our promises to customers in this country, we need American workers to get products to American customers. When customers shop on Amazon, they are helping to create jobs in their local communities.”
Bezos will also be under fire for how Amazon uses customer data, including in the creation of knockoff products that undercut outside vendors on its platform, which was the subject of a blockbuster Wall Street Journal report in April. That report has led the company to come under investigation in the European Union and helped Bezos earn his seat at Congress’s big antitrust hearing on Wednesday.
“We have a policy against using seller-specific data to aid our private-label business. But I can’t guarantee you that that policy has never been violated,” Bezos said when asked about by Rep. Pramila Jayapal about Amazon’s seller data collection.
“We are looking into it,” he said about allegations raised in April’s Wall Street Journal article cited by Jayapal.
Bezos continued to insist that the company did not use third party data to come up with ideas for private label products. He was also hit with questions about how Amazon positions and promotes its own products versus those of third parties.
“Isn’t it an inherent conflict of interest for Amazon to produce and sell products that compete directly with third-party sellers, particularly when you Amazon set the rules of the game?” the committee’s chairman, Rep. David Cicilline asked Bezos.
His response: “The consumer is the one making the decisions,” as if placement was irrelevant to purchasing decisions.
When questioned by Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, Bezos also suggested that he did not remember his dogged pursuit of the internet diaper market. In order to undercut the leader, Diapers.com, Amazon took enormous quarterly losses—up to $200 million a quarter—by bringing down prices to the point that Diapers.com could not compete.
“You said that Amazon focuses excessively on customers,” Scanlon told him. “So how would customers, especially single moms, new families, how would they benefit when the prices were driven up by the fact that you eliminated your main competitor?”
Bezos responded by saying that “diapers is a very large product category sold in many, many places” and then listing a number of physical retailers where people could purchase them.
Ultimately, Diapers.com owner Quidsi was forced to sell to Amazon, which then shut down the brand in 2017.
Later, Bezos was presented by Rep. Lucy McBath with an audio clip from a merchant who said she’d been deplatformed by the retail giant. Bezos said he was surprised to hear the audio.
Many sellers on Amazon have complained about low search rankings and their products being counterfeited by third-party sellers. Rep. Ken Buck detailed the story of Popsockets and its battle against counterfeiting on Amazon.
Amazon has come under fire for low pay and dangerous conditions in its warehouses, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when multiple workers have died and others have walked off the job in protest. The company has been accused of attempting to smear striking employees.