Amazon is accusing the Federal Trade Authority (FTC) of imposing excessive and unreasonable demands on founder Jeff Bezos and senior executives at the company, as the agency investigates the Amazon Prime subscription program.
In the petition that was submitted to the authority earlier and the fact of its submission was recently made public, Amazon claims that the authority’s demands from the company were “too broad and oppressive”, and that the tactics used by the trade council are unfair.
In particular, Amazon requested that the Trade Authority cancel subpoenas sent to Bezos and Amazon CEO Andy Jassi, and claimed that the Authority did not identify a reason why their testimony was essential.
A spokeswoman for the Trade Authority declined to comment.
The Authority opened an investigation against Amazon, and it was not immediately clear how it would respond to the company’s request, but in the document between the 49 pages, little can be discovered about the drivers of the Federal Trade Authority’s investigation, at least as they are reflected in Amazon’s eyes.
The petition includes additional insights into the federal agency’s focus on what it calls “dark patterns” — tactics in platform design designed to get users to sign up for unnecessary or unwanted services, or to prevent them from canceling purchases.
Dark patterns have been a particular concern of Federal Trade Authority Chairwoman Lina Kahn, and last year the authority issued a new enforcement policy notice warning companies to avoid these patterns.
The Federal Trade Authority’s original subpoena to Amazon stated that the investigation into Amazon Prime focused on whether the company acted unfairly or fraudulently by automatically enrolling people in the service, or alternatively failed to provide them with a simple mechanism to stop payments, according to Amazon’s petition.
In Amazon’s response, which was first reported by the “Business Insider” website, it is claimed that the process of registering and canceling the service is clear and simple.
Admittedly, legal arguments regarding the scope of the government’s investigations are not uncommon. Still, Amazon’s petition could provide additional ammunition to critics of Cannes, which has become a target among groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who argue it is overstepping its authority.
“The Federal Trade Authority has repeatedly demonstrated that under Kahn’s leadership, the board is not acting in good faith, is not acting within the law, and intends to harm the technology industry,” said Carl Sabo, vice president and general counsel at NetChoice, an industry-backed group that favors market-oriented Internet policies.
Among other things, Amazon claims in the documents it submitted that Trade Authority officials are under pressure from the leadership to finish the investigation later this year, and that is why they submitted excessive and unreasonable requests for information.
The Board of Trade has already been investigating the marketing and cancellation procedures relating to Amazon Prime subscribers since 2021, according to Amazon, which also said that the investigation has spilled over into other programs that are signed up to through subscribers.
The programs include Audible, Amazon Music, Kindle Unlimited and Subscribe & Save, according to the petition filed by Amazon.
Amazon says that it produced approximately 37,000 pages of documents in response to the Authority’s initial demands. The company says that the Trade Authority personnel abandoned the investigation unexpectedly for a period of several months.
Then in April, the company announced that it had been notified that the Trade Authority had put a new lawyer in charge of the investigation, and the agency’s personnel were under “tremendous pressure” to finish it – and were acting under instructions to make recommendations as part of the investigation before the fall.
At the time, the Authority’s officials increased their demands as part of the investigation and imposed an imminent deadline on Amazon to comply with them. The trade authority also requested testimonies from almost 20 current and former Amazon employees by sending written requests to their homes, the petition states.
Under Kahn’s leadership, the Federal Trade Authority is taking a more aggressive stance on enforcement. In the past, Amazon unsuccessfully requested that Kahn recuse herself from the investigation because of statements she made in the past against the technology giant.
According to Amazon’s petition, the Federal Trade Authority officials also tried to prevent Amazon’s lawyers from representing private employees, the petition states. The company says it’s unfair.
The company also complained that the F.T.A. is unfairly demanding that Bezos and Jassi be questioned about matters they are not aware of.
“Preparing each of them to testify about small details of the business activity of which they have no unique knowledge and no daily responsibility, will be a huge hassle for them, for the lawyers and for Amazon,” the petition reads.
Within the framework of the Federal Trade Authority rules, companies can object to investigative demands made by the Authority’s personnel. The authority has 40 days to respond to the petition. Amazon’s petition seeks to crush or limit the last subpoena that the authority submitted to the company, or at the very least to extend the deadline for fulfilling the demand until mid-September.
Amazon’s troubles in Washington are not limited to the Federal Trade Authority. Democratic and Republican members of the House Judiciary Council asked the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon and some of its executives regarding what they defined as a possibly criminal failure of congressional activity.
Amazon is also the target of antitrust legislation, which, if passed, would prohibit it and other Internet giants from giving preferential treatment to their products and services, such as driving customers to house brand products instead of competing companies’ products.