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The suit is the fourth the agency has filed this year targeting Amazon, underscoring the determination of the Biden administration to put the growing concentration of corporate power, especially among Big Tech companies, at the heart of economic policy.
In a statement, Amazon said it will challenge the FTC’s lawsuit in court, adding that it “radically” departs from the agency’s mission of protecting consumers and is “wrong on the facts and the law.”
“The practices the FTC is challenging have helped to spur competition and innovation across the retail industry, and have produced greater selection, lower prices, and faster delivery speeds for Amazon customers and greater opportunity for the many businesses that sell in Amazon’s store,” said David Zapolsky, Amazon general counsel. “If the FTC gets its way, the result would be fewer products to choose from, higher prices, slower deliveries for consumers, and reduced options for small businesses — the opposite of what antitrust law is designed to do.”
The case also represents a career-defining moment for Khan, Biden’s FTC chair, who has long had Amazon in her sights. As a young law student, Khan wrote a seminal paper arguing that the existing antitrust enforcement framework was poorly equipped to tackle the potential harm Amazon poses to competition.
The FTC and a bipartisan slate of states claim Amazon engaged in anticompetitive conduct in two markets—the market for these online superstores that serve consumers and the separate market for sellers.
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Amazon shares were down 3.2% at $127.07 at 12:07 p.m. in New York, little changed from before the lawsuit was made public.
Amazon’s marketplace is the heart of the company’s e-commerce operations. Third-party merchants, who now account for more than half of the company’s online sales, pay a commission on each sale and have the option of also paying Amazon for services that range from warehousing and shipping to advertising.
Merchants have complained for years about what they see as a one-sided relationship, accusing the company of arbitrarily enforcing its rules and being slow to respond when something goes awry.
Among other things, Amazon bars sellers from offering lower prices on other sites, a policy the FTC says curbs online competition because it forces sellers to raise prices on competing platforms such as Walmart.com for fear of having their products buried in Amazon search results.
The FTC also alleged that Amazon unduly favors its own retail business, as well as marketplace sellers that use the company’s logistics services.
The FTC, which has both antitrust and consumer protection mandates, has been investigating Amazon for potential anticompetitive conduct for several years, asking questions about everything from the company’s marketplace and Prime subscription service to mergers and its cloud computing arm. Top executives met with the FTC’s three commissioners in August to discuss the suit, though no settlement was discussed, according to people familiar with the meetings.
The majority of states that signed on to the complaint have Democratic attorneys general, though two Republicans also joined. Fewer states joined the Amazon suit than the Justice Department’s antitrust case against Alphabet Inc.’s Google or the FTC’s earlier case against Meta Platforms Inc.