Amazon claims FTC is 'harassing' executives like Bezos and Jassy

The company claims the FTC’s subpoenas for evidence are unusually burdensome.

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Amazon has filed a complaint accusing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) of “harassing” top executives like CEO Andy Jassy and founder Jeff Bezos. Amazon claims the FTC is “unduly burdensome” on its employees — pulling a page from Elon Musk’s playbook, it seems.

The complaint, which was filed on August 5 and made public this week, accuses the FTC of taking extreme measures in its investigation of Amazon’s Prime service. The FTC seeks to understand whether or not Amazon uses deceptive practices in coercing consumers to sign up for Prime subscriptions, as well as information on how difficult Amazon makes it for existing Prime customers to cancel their subscriptions.

Amazon’s hope with filing an official complaint is that the FTC will back off in its demands for documents related to the investigation. Given that Amazon has some of the most robust human resources in the world that could assist these executives in completing the FTC’s requests — and the fact that this is truly the FTC’s job — it’s unlikely the complaint will force much change.

The burden of proof — In investigating Amazon’s Prime business tactics, the FTC has reportedly served 19 Amazon executives with subpoenas to provide evidence in the case. (Other than Jassy and Bezos, those executives include head of retail Doug Harrington, head of international consumers Russell Grandinetti, and former executives Dave Clark and Greg Greeley.) Amazon says these subpoenas have been unnecessarily demanding, though the company did not detail what, exactly, was excessive about the requests.

Amazon is also taking issue with the way in which the FTC has served these subpoenas; the company says subpoenas were served directly to executives, rather than going through Amazon’s legal team, with only a few weeks to comply. Amazon has also accused the FTC of denying one employee access to Amazon’s legal team in a hearing.

Federal oversight after all — To be fair, the FTC’s requests do sound burdensome. But there is a good reason for this: Amazon is a massive corporation with many, many moving parts. Though we are not privy to every detail of the FTC’s case, it’s logical that investigating an enormous operation would require an enormous amount of paperwork. Pushing and analyzing this paperwork is the very reason for the FTC’s existence.

Amazon’s complaint echoes a similar one we’ve heard from another tech titan over the last few years. Elon Musk loves to complain that another federal oversight organization, the SEC, targets him unfairly in its investigations.

Amazon’s dealings with the FTC have proven costly to the company in the past; last year it settled a case about withholding tips for $61.7 million. While it is surely a pain to deal with federal oversight, it’s a relatively small price to pay for the continued existence of your multi-billion-dollar company.