Amazon says asking Jeff Bezos about Prime subscriptions is ‘gross harassment’

·3 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Amazon has said that the Federal Trade Commission’s investigation into the company is “harassing” Jeff Bezos.

A filing from the shopping giant released by the FTC reveals how lawyers representing its current chief executive Andy Jassy and former head Jeff Bezos complain that asking the businessmen for testimony is “grossly unreasonable”.

The commission is looking into Amazon Prime – and how difficult it is to cancel the subscription service – as well as “five separate non-Prime subscription programs”.

The 49-page document alleges that the FTC requesting civil investigative demands (CIDs) – which are similar to subpoenas – from Mr Bezos and Mr Jassy “would be a tremendous burden on them” because they “have no unique knowledge and no day-to-day responsibilities” about the “granular details of business operations”.

The lawyers claim that the request is “grossly unreasonable, unduly burdensome, and calculated to serve no other purpose than to harass Amazon’s highest-ranking executives and disrupt its business operations.”

As well as Amazon Prime, the 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.

It is unclear exactly what this refers to, but Amazon has recently purchased MGM, One Medical, and iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba autonomous vacuum cleaner.

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.”

It blames the standoff on “unexplained pressure placed on staff to complete the investigation hastily, by an arbitrarily chosen deadline.”

Last year, Amazon asked unsuccessfully that FTC Chair Lina Khan step aside from separate antitrust investigations into its business, contending that her past public criticism of the company’s market power makes it impossible for her to be impartial.

FTC spokespeople didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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. It costs $139 a year. The service added a coveted feature this year by obtaining exclusive video rights to the NFL’s “Thursday Night Football.”

In March this year, it was reported that a secret project, codenamed ‘Iliad’, after the lengthy poem, put multiple layers of questions and offers between the main Amazon page and the final cancellation in the hope that users would eventually stay on the service.

After this was implemented, Prime cancellations dropped as low as 14 per cent at one point in 2017.

In January last year, The Norwegian Consumer Council (NCC) said the process was a “deliberate attempt to confuse and frustrate customers”.

Jamil Ghani, VP of Amazon Prime, said at the time that “customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us. By design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience."

Additional reporting by Associated Press