Amazon can't keep Jassy, Bezos from testifying in FTC Prime probe

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos arrives for his meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the UK diplomatic residence on September 20, 2021 in New York City.

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The Federal Trade Commission late Wednesday rejected Amazon’s bid to exclude CEO Andy Jassy and founder Jeff Bezos from testifying in a probe into the retail giant’s Prime program.

In an order written by Republican Commissioner Christine Wilson and made public on the FTC’s website, the agency ruled that Amazon hadn’t sufficiently proved that its schedule for the executives’ testimony would be unduly burdensome. Still, the agency did allow for more prep time before they give testimony.

“Amazon provides no reason why the Commission must accept anything less than all the relevant testimony it can obtain from these two witnesses,” the order said.

Amazon lodged a complaint in an August filing, claiming that the FTC’s demands for information and testimony by top executives were overly broad and burdensome. Amazon even accused FTC staff of harassing Bezos and Jassy for their participation.

Amazon said the FTC “made matters worse” when it informed the company in June that the agency was expanding the scope of its probe to include other subscription programs, including Audible, Amazon Music, Kindle Unlimited and Subscribe & Save, according to the August filing.

The FTC has been investigating sign-up and cancellation processes for Amazon’s Prime program since March 2021. The agency is looking into whether Amazon deceives users into signing up for Prime, while failing to provide a simple way to cancel and avoid recurring charges.

The Prime subscription program, which costs $139 a year and includes perks like free shipping, now has some 200 million subscribers worldwide.

Amazon said last month it has been complying with the FTC’s requests so far, producing some 37,000 pages of documents.

Amazon has navigated a tricky relationship with the FTC under Chair Lina Khan, who rose to prominence as a law student when she published “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal in 2017. The company sought Khan’s recusal from antitrust probes into its business, citing her past critiques of its power.

Amazon gained some concessions from the FTC, like a limitation on “catch-all” demands for information, which the commission said it would modify. The FTC also laid out a protocol for scheduling future hearings and clarified that witnesses should be largely allowed to choose their own counsel, barring certain conflicts.

“We’re disappointed but unsurprised the FTC largely declined to rule against itself, but we’re pleased that the agency walked backed its broadest requests and will allow witnesses to choose their own counsel,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “Amazon has cooperated with the FTC throughout the investigation and already produced tens of thousands of pages of documents. We are committed to engaging constructively with FTC staff, but we remain concerned that the latest requests are overly broad and needlessly burdensome, and we will explore all our options.”

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