By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan – whose agency filed a long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Amazon.com on Tuesday – published a major academic article in 2017 arguing the online retailer had escaped antitrust scrutiny.
“With its missionary zeal for consumers, Amazon has marched toward monopoly by singing the tune of contemporary antitrust,” Khan, then 29, wrote in the Yale Law Journal. Amazon “has evaded government scrutiny in part through fervently devoting its business strategy and rhetoric to reducing prices for consumers.”
Six years later, Khan, who became the FTC’s chair in 2021, is leading the agency’s antitrust charge against the online retailer. The FTC’s lawsuit filed on Tuesday asks a court to consider forcing the company to sell assets to stop what it said was ongoing harm to consumers.
Khan said on Tuesday that Amazon “has used a set of punitive and coercive tactics to unlawfully maintain its monopolies.” She argued that the company is “exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform.” Amazon rejected
Under Khan, in June the FTC accused Amazon of enrolling millions of consumers into its paid subscription Amazon Prime service without their consent and making it hard for them to cancel.
The FTC on May 31 announced a $5.8 million settlement with Amazon’s Ring doorbell camera unit after the agency said cameras had been used for spying on some customers. Amazon also agreed in May to pay $25 million to settle FTC allegations it violated children’s privacy rights by failing to delete recordings by virtual assistant Alexa.
Amazon has fought back and rejected the antitrust lawsuit filed on Tuesday. In 2021, the retailing giant filed a petition asking for Khan to be recused on Amazon-related matters, saying she had “repeatedly called for breaking up Amazon throughout her career.”
Previously, as a staffer for the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, she helped write a massive report alleging abuses of market dominance by Amazon, Apple, Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Alphabet’s Google.
Since her 2017 article Amazon’s market capitalization has more than doubled to $1.35 trillion as its revenue grew from $177 billion to $434 billion last year. The company has invested more than $530 billion in the United States since 2010 and now employs 1.54 million people.
Last year, the FTC rejected a bid by Amazon to quash demands that both CEO Andy Jassy and Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos testify at investigative hearings.
The retailer said the FTC was seeking to “harass” both Jassy and former CEO Bezos by demanding they testify “on an open-ended list of topics.”
The FTC responded by noting its relatively small size compared with Amazon. “By contrast, the FTC’s 2021 budget topped out at only $351 million, or slightly more than 1% of Amazon’s earnings.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)