Amazon US own brand search engine rigging
Occurred: October 2021
Amazon has been regularly placing its own brand products above those of competitor products, according to an investigation by The Markup. Based on data provided by 3,400 product searchers in January 2021, the report finds that Amazon brands and exclusives receive an 'outsized portion of the top spot on search results' while only accounting for a small proportion of products on the company's platform.
The Markup also conducted a survey showing that most US consumers are unable to identify Solimo, Pinzon, and other top-selling house brands, many of which are not clearly labelled as owned by Amazon. Over 150 Amazon house brands and 137,000 unique house brand and exclusive products were identified during the investigation.
The day before The Markup's investigation was published, Reuters revealed Amazon documents that show Amazon has been copying products on its marketplace in India and covertly rigging its search engine algorithm to boost them.
'Potentially criminal' obstruction of Congress
This is not the first time Amazon has been accused of copying products and manipulating its own search results. The US House Judiciary Committee antitrust subcommittee investigated (pdf) competitive practices at Amazon, Alphabet, Apple, and Facebook in June 2019. During the hearings, Amazon associate general counsel Nate Sutton argued that Amazon algorithms 'are optimised to predict what customers want to buy regardless of the seller.'
In March 2022, the US House of Representatives’ antitrust subcommittee accused (pdf) Amazon of lying to Congress about how it treats third-party sellers, including whether it preferences its own brands and exclusive products in search results. It also asked (pdf) the Department of Justice to investigate Amazon for 'potentially criminal' obstruction of Congress.
Early April 2022, the WSJ reported that the US SEC is investigating how Amazon discloses its business practices, including its use of third-party-seller data for its private-label business.
Purpose: Rank content/search results
Technology: Search engine algorithm
Issue: Ethics; Competition/price fixing; IP abuse/misuse
Transparency: Governance; Complaints/appeals; Black box; Marketing
Amazon (2019). Responses to Questions for the Record following the July 16, 2019, Hearing of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, Committee on the Judiciary, Entitled “Online Platforms and Market Power, Part 2: Innovation and Entrepreneurship” (pdf)
Investigations, assessments, audits
News, commentary, analysis
Published: October 2021
Last updated: March 2022