Leaked documents reveal Amazon’s private-brands team in India 'secretly exploited internal data' and rigged search results

Leaked documents reveal Amazon’s private-brands team in India 'secretly exploited internal data' and rigged search results
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, center, tours Amazon's headquarters in Seattle, March 3, 2016. DoD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Tim D. Godbee

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday renewed her call to break up Amazon after internal documents obtained by Reuters revealed that the e-commerce giant engaged in anti-competitive behavior in India that it has long denied, including in testimonies from company leaders to Congress.

"These documents show what we feared about Amazon's monopoly power—that the company is willing and able to rig its platform to benefit its bottom line while stiffing small businesses and entrepreneurs," tweeted Warren (D-Mass.) "This is one of the many reasons we need to break it up."

Warren is a vocal advocate of breaking up tech giants including but not limited to Amazon. The company faces investigations regarding alleged anti-competitive behavior in the United States as well as Europe and India. The investigative report may ramp up such probes.

Aditya Karla and Steve Stecklow report that "thousands of pages of internal Amazon documents examined by Reuters—including emails, strategy papers, and business plans—show the company ran a systematic campaign of creating knockoffs and manipulating search results to boost its own product lines in India, one of the company's largest growth markets."

"The documents reveal how Amazon's private-brands team in India secretly exploited internal data from Amazon.in to copy products sold by other companies, and then offered them on its platform," according to the reporters. "The employees also stoked sales of Amazon private-brand products by rigging Amazon's search results."

As Reuters notes:

In sworn testimony before the U.S. Congress in 2020, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos explained that the e-commerce giant prohibits its employees from using the data on individual sellers to help its private-label business. And, in 2019, another Amazon executive testified that the company does not use such data to create its own private-label products or alter its search results to favor them.

But the internal documents seen by Reuters show for the first time that, at least in India, manipulating
search results to favor Amazon's own products, as well as copying other sellers' goods, were part of a formal, clandestine strategy at Amazon—and that high-level executives were told about it. The documents show that two executives reviewed the India strategy—senior vice presidents Diego Piacentini, who has since left the company, and Russell Grandinetti, who currently runs Amazon's international consumer business.

While neither Piacentini nor Grandinetti responded to Reuters' requests for comment, Amazon provided a written response that did not address the reporters' questions.

"As Reuters hasn't shared the documents or their provenance with us, we are unable to confirm the veracity or otherwise of the information and claims as stated," Amazon said. "We believe these claims are factually incorrect and unsubstantiated."

"We display search results based on relevance to the customer's search query, irrespective of whether such products have private brands offered by sellers or not," the company said, adding that it "strictly prohibits the use or sharing of nonpublic, seller-specific data for the benefit of any seller, including sellers of private brands."

Warren was not alone in calling for the breakup of Amazon following the report.

"This is not shocking. But it is appalling," the American Economic Liberties Project said in a series of tweets. "Independent businesses have sounded the alarm for years—providing evidence that Amazon stole their intellectual property."

"We said back in 2020 that a perjury referral was in order—and it still is," the group added, highlighting testimony from Bezos and Nate Sutton, Amazon's associate general counsel. "But Amazon will remain an anti-business behemoth, flagrantly breaking the law and daring policymakers to stop them."

Highlighting a report from a trio of its experts, Economic Liberties added that "it's time to break Amazon up."

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