Consumer Groups Slam Amazon Over Bezos’ Antitrust Argument

Consumer Groups Slam Amazon Over Bezos' Antitrust Argument
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Amazon workers and community allies demonstrate during a protest organized by New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York in front of Jeff Bezos’ Manhattan residence in New York on December 2, 2020

Amazon workers and community allies demonstrate during a protest organized by New York Communities for Change and Make the Road New York in front of Jeff Bezos’ Manhattan residence in New York on December 2, 2020
Photo: Kena Bentancur (Getty Images)

Amazon—a trillion dollar multinational corporation repeatedly sued by labor groups for unfair working conditions at its facilities—wants you to know it’s being treated unfairly.

In a blog post on Wednesday Amazon lashed out at antitrust legislation currently making its way through Congress for selectively, “targeting just a handful of American companies.” If implemented, Amazon says the reforms aimed at increasing marketplace competitiveness and reducing monopolistic behavior could result in higher prices and less product selection on Amazon’s retail website, which could in effect break Prime as we know it.

In other words, Amazon’s trying to hold your Prime membership hostage.

Though just about everyone acknowledges Amazon’s role a as tech behemoth, the company (which owns a cloud service that raked in nearly $20 billion in a single quarter) creatively tried to argue it actually has more in common with traditional retailers like Walmart, Target, and Costco, which it says are, “mysteriously excluded,” from the proposed legislation.

“Applying the same broad, vague, and undefined language to all of these different market segments to regulate what are in fact very different companies would cause serious and damaging unintended consequences for American consumers and small businesses the bills purport to protect,” the company said.

Amazon takes aim mostly at Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar’s Innovation and Choice Online Act currently making its way through the Senate. The bill, which has received support from small business groups like Main Street Alliance and Small Business Rising, would make it illegal for tech’s largest internet companies to unfairly favor their own products and services on their platforms.

That’s clearly not how Amazon sees it. According to them, the bill would force Amazon to let other logistic providers fulfill Amazon Prime orders, which they say said would make it potentially untenable for them to justify one or two day Prime shipping, ultimately “degrad[ing] the value and quality of Prime.”

“This degradation of the Prime experience would materially hurt not just Amazon (which is what we believe to be the real, unstated goal of the legislation), but, more importantly, every American consumer and small business that currently relies on the Prime service,” Amazon wrote.

Amazon went on to say other provisions of the bill guarding against self-preferencing products were flawed because they wouldn’t apply equally to other retailers and would unfairly punish Amazon’s, “customer-obsessed experience.”

Consumer Rights Groups Push Back on Company’s Antitrust Claims

“Amazon is full of shit,” Fight for the Future Director Evan Greer told Gizmodo. “Antitrust bills cracking down on anti-competitive practices and self-dealing are not going to ‘break’ Prime.”

Greer, who has led advocacy groups pushing for stronger antitrust reforms, said Amazon’s recent statements seemed especially panicked amid growing momentum in support of new legislation. Public polling backs that sentiment up. Nearly two in five adults in a recent Morning Consult poll said they believed the government should increase regulation of tech companies, a figure up from around three in 10 two years prior.

“​​There is enormous momentum behind antitrust bills,” Greer said. “You can smell the panic in the air as Big Tech lobbyists grasp at straws and throw spaghetti at the wall.”

Amazon’s main objections laid out on Wednesday also bear scrutiny. In a tweet threat, Consumer Reports Senior Researcher Sumit Sharma said that while the current bills would force Amazon to use other logistic partners, the company wouldn’t be required to include that in a Prime membership.

Other groups, like the Tech Oversight Project told Gizmodo they saw Amazon’s complaints as a deflection away from its own anti-competitive business practices. “Amazon will say anything to stymie oversight of their monopolistic business practices,” Tech Oversight Project Executive Director Sacha Haworth said over email “Jeff Bezos has lied before Congress about cloning products from sellers, and Amazon has even obstructed Congressional investigations.”

Amazon’s combative antitrust statements happened to land one day after the Oversight Project launched an advertisement campaign advocating for antitrust legislation and calling out what they view as deceptive practices in tech.

“Amazon’s latest blog is just another attempt to stir up anxiety about the exact bills needed to ensure a fair marketplace,” American Economic Liberties Project Senior Policy Analyst Krista Brown said in an interview with Gizmodo. “The arguments laid out are made in bad faith, as there are countless examples of Amazon knowingly harming the small business ecosystem.”

Brown cited a recent settlement where Amazon had to pay $2.5 million over an alleged price-fixing program and a recent lawsuit filed by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine which accuses the company of driving up prices across its platform as prime examples of why bills like Klobuchar’s are needed.

“While all of these are conveniently left out of the [blog] there are dozens of other differences between Amazon and large retailers like Walmart that specifically hurt consumers and small businesses,” Brown added.

Big Tech Lashes Out

While Amazon’s the most recent of the tech giants to voice complaints around antitrust bills, they’re far from the only ones. Top executives at Apple, Google, and Meta have all reportedly reached out to lawmakers to plead their cases against the bills. Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly even went as far as to personally contact House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress to try and persuade them to kill the bills.

Those efforts aren’t just limited to smokey D.C office rooms and late-night iMessages either. Apple’s already whipped out the big guns and spent a record $2.5 million on lobbying in the first quarter this year, in part to try and squash antitrust efforts. More recently it was revealed Meta donated around $4 million to the American Edge Project, a supposed “grassroots’’ organization created to act as an attack dog against antitrust reform.

Despite all that dogged pushback and tech’s seemingly bottomless pockets, activists like Greer from Fight For the Future remain confident these bills will see the light of day.

“In the end, none of it is going to matter,” Greer said. “We are going to get these bills to the floor, and they are going to pass overwhelmingly. And when they do, Amazon can kiss my ass.”

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