WASHINGTON -- Amazon has complained to federal regulators that they are hounding company founder Jeff Bezos and senior executives, making “impossible-to-satisfy demands” in their investigation of Amazon Prime, the popular streaming and shopping service with free delivery and an estimated 200 million members around the globe.
The Federal Trade Commission has been investigating the sign-up and cancellation practices of Amazon Prime starting in March 2021 with the issuance of civil subpoenas, the biggest online retailer and tech giant disclosed in a petition to the agency filed earlier this month.
The petition asks the FTC to cancel, or extend the deadline for answering, subpoenas sent last June to Bezos, Amazon's former CEO, and current CEO Andy Jassy. It says the FTC “has identified no legitimate reason for needing their testimony when it can obtain the same information, and more, from other witnesses and documents.”
Jassy took over the top position at Amazon from Bezos, one of the world's richest individuals, in July 2021. Bezos became executive chairman.
The FTC investigation has widened to include at least five other subscription programs, according to Amazon: Audible, Amazon Music, Kindle Unlimited, Subscribe & Save, and an unidentified third-party program not offered by Amazon. The regulators are asking the company to identify the number of consumers who were enrolled in the programs without giving their consent, among other customer information. In June, agency staff sought to serve subpoenas on nearly 20 current and former Amazon employees, at their homes, with dates for them to give testimony in coming weeks, the petition says.
Amazon says in the petition it has worked “diligently and cooperatively” with FTC staff for more than a year to provide information relevant to the probe, offering up some 37,000 pages of documents. It calls the information demanded in the subpoenas “overly broad and burdensome.”
Amazon blames the standoff on “unexplained pressure placed on staff to complete the investigation hastily, by an arbitrarily chosen deadline.”
FTC spokespeople didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
With an estimated 150 million U.S. subscribers, Amazon Prime is a key source of revenue, as well as a wealth of customer data, for the Seattle-based company, which runs an e-commerce empire and ventures in cloud computing, personal “smart" tech and beyond. Amazon Prime costs $139 a year. The service added a coveted feature this year by obtaining exclusive video rights to the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football.”
Last year, Amazon asked unsuccessfully that FTC Chair Lina Khan step aside from separate antitrust investigations into its business, contending that her public criticism of the company’s market power before she joined the government makes it impossible for her to be impartial. Khan was a fierce critic of tech giants Facebook (now Meta), Google and Apple, as well as Amazon. She arrived on the antitrust scene in 2017, writing an influential study titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” when she was a Yale law student.
Amazon's latest petition to the FTC was first reported Monday by Business Insider.
This story has been corrected to show that Amazon's petition to the FTC was first reported Monday by Business Insider.