House Dem says he will subpoena Bezos for antitrust hearing if necessary

Rep. David Cicilline adds that he expects the CEOs of Apple, Facebook and Google to appear voluntarily before his committee.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
3 min read

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos speaks to the media in September in Washington, DC.

Eric Baradat/Getty Images

A leading House Democrat said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos appears to be resisting calls to come voluntarily before Congress for antitrust hearings.

Rep. David Cicilline, a Democrat from Rhode Island, told Politico in an interview published Thursday that he expects the CEOs of Amazon, Google  parent Alphabet, Apple and Facebook to appear before his subcommittee for an ongoing investigation into potential monopolistic practices.

"The only CEO who has expressed reservation about appearing, through a representative, has been Amazon," said Cicilline, the chairman of the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law.

He added that Bezos will be compelled to testify if necessary, since the testimony of these CEOs is critical to the investigation.

"No one in this country is above the law," Cicilline said. "Nobody is above answering a congressional subpoena. This is a very important investigation that affects the daily lives of the American people."

An Amazon representative declined to comment on Cicilline's remarks.

Cicilline's committee sent an open letter to Bezos last week calling for his testimony. That letter was sparked by a report in The Wall Street Journal that alleged Amazon employees were using the data of independent sellers on its website to develop its competing private label products. This report directly contradicts comments made under oath by Amazon lawyer Nate Sutton last year, when he said: "We do not use any seller data to compete with them."

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Using this data would grant Amazon a major competitive advantage against smaller sellers on its site in being able to decide on what goods to create and how much they should cost, Cicilline said. He added that Sutton would "be held accountable" if it's found that he wasn't truthful in his testimony.

"This is not an insignificant issue. This is a central issue of the investigation," Cicilline said about this alleged data use.

Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple have been under intense scrutiny by lawmakers and regulators over their market dominance in tech and their potential power to snuff out smaller competitors. That kind of monopolistic practice would provide fewer options for consumers and potentially raise prices. There've been some calls to break up big tech, most notably from Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but a more likely scenario is more regulations being placed on these companies to prevent them from overwhelming their rivals and gobbling up more of the economy.

Like plenty of other issues, these concerns about market dominance have been overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, with consumers now relying more than ever on these huge tech platforms to stay in touch with loved ones, watch streaming shows while stuck at home and get food and basic goods delivered.

Cicilline said he expects the three other major tech CEOs -- Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg , Apple's Tim Cook and Alphabet's Sundar Pichai -- to appear voluntarily before his committee.

Cicilline said Thursday that a report on his committee's investigation was planned for March or April, but because of the pandemic it was delayed to the spring.

It's still unclear how or when these hearings would take place, but it was suggested during the interview that they could happen virtually during the health crisis.

During a committee hearing in January, a handful of smaller tech firms, including PopSockets and Sonos, accused these tech giants of unfair business practices, such as demanding information on future plans and making unexpected changes to their platforms.