Amazon claimed federal investigators have mounted a campaign to “harass” top executives including founder Jeff Bezos as part of a probe into alleged antitrust violations by the e-commerce giant that suffered a mysterious, six-month “breakdown” several months ago.

The Seattle-based company alleges that the Federal Trade Commission is issuing subpoenas for Bezos, current CEO Andy Jassy, and nearly two dozen current other former employees and executives that are “unduly burdensome, and calculated to serve no other purpose than to harass Amazon’s highest-ranking executives and disrupt its business operations.”

Amazon’s legal filing also alleges there was an unexplained “breakdown” in the FTC’s investigation that began late last year, claiming that the agency’s investigators went radio silent for six months after it provided more than 37,000 pages of documents.

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy
The FTC has subpoenaed Amazon CEO Andy Jassy as part of its probe into the company’s Prime subscription service.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“As Amazon continued producing responsive materials, [FTC] staff inexplicably disengaged,” company lawyers allege.

After nearly half a year of silence, Amazon said FTC officials — headed by 33-year-old Chairwoman Lina Kahn, who Amazon has said should recuse herself from any probe of the company because of her past public criticism of Big Tech — “abruptly notified” the company in April that a “new attorney would be taking over” and that “staff was under ‘tremendous pressure’ to conclude the investigation.”

FTC investigators said they were under a “deadline” to finish up the probe, but that “despite the professed urgency” the “staff members had not reviewed…half of Amazon’s previously produced materials,” according to the filing.

Amazon said it was then asked to produce even more material within a matter of weeks, but the company “pointed out the infeasibility of staff’s unreasonable and inflexible new demands.”

Other prominent Amazon executives who have been subpoenaed as part of the investigation include former retail head Dave Clark and his successor, Doug Herrington.

Russ Grandinetti, the senior vice president of Amazon’s international operations, and former vice president of the company’s Prime division, Greg Greeley, have also been ensnared in the probe, according to the document.

Dave Clark
In addition to Bezos, other prominent Amazon executives who have been subpoenaed include former retail head Dave Clark, above, and his successor, Doug Herrington.
REUTERS

Amazon says that government agents served the subpoenas to the individuals in question at their homes just before the July 4th holiday weekend.

Amazon is demanding that the federal agency “quash or limit” the subpoenas because of “unworkable and unfair” procedures that it believes are a “one-sided effort to force Amazon to meet impossible-to-satisfy demands.”

“Staff’s handling of this investigation has been unusual and perplexing,” Amazon claims in its filing.

The FTC wants Amazon to provide a specific number of shoppers who became “nonconsensual enrollees” of its subscription services, according to legal filings.

It also wants Amazon to provide a log of disappearing text messages that are sent using so-called “ephemeral messaging” apps in which they discuss matters including subscription enrollment and cancellations, according to the filing.

Jeff Bezos
“As Amazon continued producing responsive materials, [FTC] staff inexplicably disengaged,” company lawyers allege.
Getty Images

Amazon is also alleging that the FTC is illegally denying its former and current executives access to attorneys who jointly represent the company and the individuals.

“[FTC] staff has gone so far as to demand that counsel leave a hearing for the first individual witness for failing to abide by this improper restriction,” Amazon alleges in its filing.

The contents of the legal filing were first revealed by Insider.

The FTC is investigating Amazon for allegedly using manipulative tactics to get customers to subscribe to its Prime subscription service.

Earlier this year, Insider obtained internal documents which show that company officials were concerned that Amazon.com’s user interface designs have led customers to feel tricked into signing up for Prime.

The FTC under Chair Lina Khan
The FTC under Commissioner Lina Khan has taken a more aggressive approach toward alleged antitrust violations.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The controversy surrounds the alleged use of so-called “dark patterns” in which customers get roped into a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime when checking out items that they purchase online — only for them to be billed monthly once the trial ends.

In order for customers to cancel the subscription, they need to click on several pages as part of a time-consuming process — prompting complaints and even lawsuits from consumers.

The document indicates that the FTC’s probe has expanded beyond the Prime division, as antitrust investigators are also said to be looking into other Amazon-owned subscription services, including Audible, Amazon Music, Kindle Unlimited, and Subscribe & Save.

Amazon and the FTC have declined to comment.



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