Amazon accused of lying about its business practices to Congress

Members of Congress have accused Amazon executives of misleading or lying to an antitrust committee about its business practices, following recent reports that the company uses third-party seller data to copy products and promotes those versions in search results. The representatives, all members of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, are considering whether to ask the Department of Justice to undertake a criminal investigation.

In the letter to chief executive Andy Jassy, Reps. David Cicilline, Ken Buck, Pramila Jayapal, Jerrold Nadler and Matt Gaetz asked Amazon to provide "exculpatory evidence” to back up testimony from executives )(including former CEO Jeff Bezos) to the subcommittee in 2019 and 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal. Bezos told the committee last year that the company doesn't allow employees to use data from individual sellers to bolster its own product lines, though "couldn't guarantee" that the company hasn't misused such data. The company's associate general counsel, Nate Sutton, said in a 2019 testimony that Amazon doesn't “use individual seller data directly to compete” with third-party sellers.

An investigation published by Reuters last week suggested Amazon India "ran a systematic campaign" of copying other companies' products and manipulating search results to promote them. The Markup also reported that Amazon places its own products above competitors' goods in search results, including ones with higher customer ratings. The representatives said the reporting directly contradicts sworn testimony from Bezos, from whom Jassy took over in July, and other executives.

“We strongly encourage you to make use of this opportunity to correct the record and provide the Committee with sworn, truthful, and accurate responses to this request as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon's representatives misled the Committee. At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law."

The House Judiciary Committee has been looking into this issue since 2019 as part of a broader investigation of competition in digital markets. The representatives gave Jassy until November 1st to respond to the letter. "We’re giving Amazon one last chance to come clean about how they abuse other seller’s data and unfairly advantage their own products," subcommittee chair Cicilline wrote on Twitter. "We cannot continue to allow Big Tech to destroy small businesses." 

"Like other retailers, we look at sales and store data to provide our customers with the best possible experience," Amazon told The Wall Street Journal. "However, we strictly prohibit our employees from using non-public, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch. While we don’t believe these claims are accurate, we take these allegations very seriously and have launched an internal investigation."

An Amazon spokesperson provided the following statement to Engadget:

Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question. As we have previously stated, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond that of any other retailer’s policy that we’re aware of, that prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon private label products. We investigate any allegations that this policy may have been violated and take appropriate action. In addition, we design our search experience to feature the items customers will want to purchase, regardless of whether they are offered by Amazon or one of our selling partners.

Amazon accused of lying about its business practices to Congress

Members of Congress have accused Amazon executives of misleading or lying to an antitrust committee about its business practices, following recent reports that the company uses third-party seller data to copy products and promotes those versions in search results. The representatives, all members of the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, are considering whether to ask the Department of Justice to undertake a criminal investigation.

In the letter to chief executive Andy Jassy, Reps. David Cicilline, Ken Buck, Pramila Jayapal, Jerrold Nadler and Matt Gaetz asked Amazon to provide "exculpatory evidence” to back up testimony from executives )(including former CEO Jeff Bezos) to the subcommittee in 2019 and 2020, according to The Wall Street Journal. Bezos told the committee last year that the company doesn't allow employees to use data from individual sellers to bolster its own product lines, though "couldn't guarantee" that the company hasn't misused such data. The company's associate general counsel, Nate Sutton, said in a 2019 testimony that Amazon doesn't “use individual seller data directly to compete” with third-party sellers.

An investigation published by Reuters last week suggested Amazon India "ran a systematic campaign" of copying other companies' products and manipulating search results to promote them. The Markup also reported that Amazon places its own products above competitors' goods in search results, including ones with higher customer ratings. The representatives said the reporting directly contradicts sworn testimony from Bezos, from whom Jassy took over in July, and other executives.

“We strongly encourage you to make use of this opportunity to correct the record and provide the Committee with sworn, truthful, and accurate responses to this request as we consider whether a referral of this matter to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation is appropriate,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. "At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon's representatives misled the Committee. At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law."

The House Judiciary Committee has been looking into this issue since 2019 as part of a broader investigation of competition in digital markets. The representatives gave Jassy until November 1st to respond to the letter. "We’re giving Amazon one last chance to come clean about how they abuse other seller’s data and unfairly advantage their own products," subcommittee chair Cicilline wrote on Twitter. "We cannot continue to allow Big Tech to destroy small businesses." 

"Like other retailers, we look at sales and store data to provide our customers with the best possible experience," Amazon told The Wall Street Journal. "However, we strictly prohibit our employees from using non-public, seller-specific data to determine which private label products to launch. While we don’t believe these claims are accurate, we take these allegations very seriously and have launched an internal investigation."

An Amazon spokesperson provided the following statement to Engadget:

Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question. As we have previously stated, we have an internal policy, which goes beyond that of any other retailer’s policy that we’re aware of, that prohibits the use of individual seller data to develop Amazon private label products. We investigate any allegations that this policy may have been violated and take appropriate action. In addition, we design our search experience to feature the items customers will want to purchase, regardless of whether they are offered by Amazon or one of our selling partners.

Jack Dorsey says Square is ‘considering’ building a Bitcoin mining system

Jack Dorsey says that Square is “considering” building its own Bitcoin mining system using custom silicon and open source software. “Square is considering building a Bitcoin mining system based on custom silicon and open source for individuals and businesses worldwide,” Dorsey wrote in a Twitter thread Friday.

He added that such a project would follow a similar approach as the bitcoin hardware wallet Square began working on earlier this summer. But building a mining system would be considerably more complicated for the payments company than simply building a wallet. Creating custom chips is, as Dorsey points out, “very expensive,” and would be new territory for the payments company, which has been a major supporter of Bitcoin.

“Mining needs to be more efficient,” Dorsey wrote. “Driving towards clean and efficient energy use is great for Bitcoin’s economics, impact, and scalability. Energy is a system-level problem that requires innovation in silicon, software, and integration.”

As with his earlier tweets about plans for the hardware wallet, Dorsey didn’t share many details about how the mining system would actually work. But he said the goal would be to make mining more efficient and accessible to more people, which could address two of the most important issues related to cryptocurrency mining.

Bitcoin-related power usage has reached record highs in recent years, raising major concerns about the cryptocurrency’s impact on climate change. Mining has also driven up the prices and scarcity of GPUs, which has made it increasingly difficult for the average crypto enthusiast to mine on their own.

"Bitcoin mining should be as easy as plugging a rig into a power source,” Dorsey said. Whether or not Square will be able to accomplish that, is less clear. He said that the company “will start the deep technical investigation required to take on this project,” and is hoping to hear feedback on the idea in the meantime.

Jack Dorsey says Square is ‘considering’ building a Bitcoin mining system

Jack Dorsey says that Square is “considering” building its own Bitcoin mining system using custom silicon and open source software. “Square is considering building a Bitcoin mining system based on custom silicon and open source for individuals and businesses worldwide,” Dorsey wrote in a Twitter thread Friday.

He added that such a project would follow a similar approach as the bitcoin hardware wallet Square began working on earlier this summer. But building a mining system would be considerably more complicated for the payments company than simply building a wallet. Creating custom chips is, as Dorsey points out, “very expensive,” and would be new territory for the payments company, which has been a major supporter of Bitcoin.

“Mining needs to be more efficient,” Dorsey wrote. “Driving towards clean and efficient energy use is great for Bitcoin’s economics, impact, and scalability. Energy is a system-level problem that requires innovation in silicon, software, and integration.”

As with his earlier tweets about plans for the hardware wallet, Dorsey didn’t share many details about how the mining system would actually work. But he said the goal would be to make mining more efficient and accessible to more people, which could address two of the most important issues related to cryptocurrency mining.

Bitcoin-related power usage has reached record highs in recent years, raising major concerns about the cryptocurrency’s impact on climate change. Mining has also driven up the prices and scarcity of GPUs, which has made it increasingly difficult for the average crypto enthusiast to mine on their own.

"Bitcoin mining should be as easy as plugging a rig into a power source,” Dorsey said. Whether or not Square will be able to accomplish that, is less clear. He said that the company “will start the deep technical investigation required to take on this project,” and is hoping to hear feedback on the idea in the meantime.

Smartphone shipments fell due to ongoing component shortages

From NVIDIA and AMD to automakers like GM, the global chip shortage has affected nearly every industry that depends on computer components, and now it’s even hurting smartphone manufacturers. According to Canalys, phone shipments dropped by six percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2021. The firm says much of that is due to component shortages that made it impossible for those companies to meet consumer demand.

According to a preliminary estimate, Samsung shipped the most devices in Q3 2021, claiming a 23 percent share of the market. For the South Korean company, the good news is that it’s no worse off now than it was a year ago. Reclaiming the second spot, Apple managed to increase its share of the market by 3 percentage points year-over-year.

Rounding out the top five are a trio of Chinese manufacturers: Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo. Together, they claimed a 34 percent slice of the market. One thing to note about the way Canalys does things is that it includes OnePlus shipments under Oppo, but doesn’t group Oppo with sister company Vivo. All three are owned by Chinese conglomerate BBK Electronics. When you think about things that way, it’s usually only second to Samsung as the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

Still, Apple’s performance is impressive when you consider its Q3 numbers only include about one week of iPhone 13 sales. Canalys didn’t speak to the company’s numbers specifically, but it’s likely the strength of Apple’s supply chain helped it thrive in a challenging market. The company is one of TSMC’s most important customers, commanding a sizeable portion of its chip output.

“The chipset famine has truly arrived,” said Canalys Principal Analyst Ben Stanton. “The smartphone industry is striving to maximize production of devices as best it can.” The problem is that the supply shortage is expected to continue well into 2022.

Smartphone shipments fell due to ongoing component shortages

From NVIDIA and AMD to automakers like GM, the global chip shortage has affected nearly every industry that depends on computer components, and now it’s even hurting smartphone manufacturers. According to Canalys, phone shipments dropped by six percent year-over-year in the third quarter of 2021. The firm says much of that is due to component shortages that made it impossible for those companies to meet consumer demand.

According to a preliminary estimate, Samsung shipped the most devices in Q3 2021, claiming a 23 percent share of the market. For the South Korean company, the good news is that it’s no worse off now than it was a year ago. Reclaiming the second spot, Apple managed to increase its share of the market by 3 percentage points year-over-year.

Rounding out the top five are a trio of Chinese manufacturers: Xiaomi, Vivo and Oppo. Together, they claimed a 34 percent slice of the market. One thing to note about the way Canalys does things is that it includes OnePlus shipments under Oppo, but doesn’t group Oppo with sister company Vivo. All three are owned by Chinese conglomerate BBK Electronics. When you think about things that way, it’s usually only second to Samsung as the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world.

Still, Apple’s performance is impressive when you consider its Q3 numbers only include about one week of iPhone 13 sales. Canalys didn’t speak to the company’s numbers specifically, but it’s likely the strength of Apple’s supply chain helped it thrive in a challenging market. The company is one of TSMC’s most important customers, commanding a sizeable portion of its chip output.

“The chipset famine has truly arrived,” said Canalys Principal Analyst Ben Stanton. “The smartphone industry is striving to maximize production of devices as best it can.” The problem is that the supply shortage is expected to continue well into 2022.

Microsoft to shut down LinkedIn in China over ‘challenging operating environment’

LinkedIn will shut down the Chinese version of its service later this year. The company cited "a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China" as the reasons for closing the local edition of its social network for professionals.

"While we’ve found success in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunity, we have not found that same level of success in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed," LinkedIn said in a statement. As such, the company isn't abandoning China completely. It's working on a standalone job board app called InJobs, which won't have a social feed or any way to share posts or articles.

LinkedIn agreed to adhere to state restrictions and block certain content when it launched in China in February 2014. However, some signs of trouble bubbled up this year. In March, the company prevented new Chinese users from signing up for a spell while it made sure it was abiding by the countries' laws. A couple of months later, China said 105 apps were violating data collection laws, including LinkedIn.

The Microsoft-owned service was the last major US social network that was still officially operating in China. The country banned Signal and Clubhouse earlier this year. Facebook and Twitter have been blocked there since 2009, and China barred Instagram in 2014.

Microsoft to shut down LinkedIn in China over ‘challenging operating environment’

LinkedIn will shut down the Chinese version of its service later this year. The company cited "a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements in China" as the reasons for closing the local edition of its social network for professionals.

"While we’ve found success in helping Chinese members find jobs and economic opportunity, we have not found that same level of success in the more social aspects of sharing and staying informed," LinkedIn said in a statement. As such, the company isn't abandoning China completely. It's working on a standalone job board app called InJobs, which won't have a social feed or any way to share posts or articles.

LinkedIn agreed to adhere to state restrictions and block certain content when it launched in China in February 2014. However, some signs of trouble bubbled up this year. In March, the company prevented new Chinese users from signing up for a spell while it made sure it was abiding by the countries' laws. A couple of months later, China said 105 apps were violating data collection laws, including LinkedIn.

The Microsoft-owned service was the last major US social network that was still officially operating in China. The country banned Signal and Clubhouse earlier this year. Facebook and Twitter have been blocked there since 2009, and China barred Instagram in 2014.

DoorDash establishes $1M relief fund for restaurants hit by natural disasters

Over the next year, DoorDash has earmarked $1,000,000 to support local restaurants affected by state or federally declared natural disasters. With help from Hello Alice, it will distribute $10,000 grants to businesses that can use the funds to pay for essential expenses like rent, supplies and payroll in times of need. Starting on November 1st, the companies will process applications every three months, with funding to follow shortly thereafter.

Currently, the program is only available to restaurants in the US. Other eligibility requirements include that a business owner operate three restaurants or less. None of those locations may have generated more than $3 million in revenue over the last 12 months. Notably, a partnership with DoorDash or Caviar isn’t required to apply for the program.

The relief fund comes as food delivery apps face increasing scrutiny from local governments. The City of Chicago recently launched separate lawsuits against DoorDash and GrubHub, accusing the two companies of using bait-and-switch tactics to mislead consumers. New York City also recently passed sweeping legislation aimed at protecting workers of app-based delivery services.

DoorDash establishes $1M relief fund for restaurants hit by natural disasters

Over the next year, DoorDash has earmarked $1,000,000 to support local restaurants affected by state or federally declared natural disasters. With help from Hello Alice, it will distribute $10,000 grants to businesses that can use the funds to pay for essential expenses like rent, supplies and payroll in times of need. Starting on November 1st, the companies will process applications every three months, with funding to follow shortly thereafter.

Currently, the program is only available to restaurants in the US. Other eligibility requirements include that a business owner operate three restaurants or less. None of those locations may have generated more than $3 million in revenue over the last 12 months. Notably, a partnership with DoorDash or Caviar isn’t required to apply for the program.

The relief fund comes as food delivery apps face increasing scrutiny from local governments. The City of Chicago recently launched separate lawsuits against DoorDash and GrubHub, accusing the two companies of using bait-and-switch tactics to mislead consumers. New York City also recently passed sweeping legislation aimed at protecting workers of app-based delivery services.