FTC accuses Bezos and other Amazon executives of deleting text messages


The Federal Trade Commission is accusing Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and other top company executives of using disappearing messaging apps such as Signal to conceal potential evidence in the agency’s ongoing antitrust case against the e-commerce behemoth.

“For years, Amazon’s top executives, including founder and former CEO Jeff Bezos, discuss[ed] sensitive business matters, including antitrust, over the Signal encrypted-messaging app instead of email,” the FTC alleged in a document filed Thursday evening. “These executives turned on Signal’s ‘disappearing message’ feature, which irrevocably destroys messages, even after Amazon was on notice that Plaintiffs were investigating its conduct.”

The agency, which first accused Amazon of intentionally deleting messages in its original antitrust complaint last fall, is now asking a U.S. District Court judge to order the company to turn over documents related to its handling of data. It’s the latest salvo in a landmark case in which the FTC is arguing that Amazon abused its dominance of e-commerce to squeeze merchants and bury rivals, leading to higher prices for customers.

Bezos owns The Washington Post.

“The FTC’s contentions are baseless,” Amazon spokesman Tim Doyle said in a statement, responding to the filing alleging destruction of evidence. “Amazon voluntarily disclosed employees’ limited Signal use to the FTC years ago, thoroughly collected Signal conversations from its employees’ phones, and allowed agency staff to inspect those conversations even when they had nothing to do with the FTC’s investigation. The FTC has a complete picture of Amazon’s decision-making in this case, including 1.7 million documents from sources like email, internal messaging applications, and laptops (among other sources), and over 100 terabytes of data.”

Once a company knows it is being sued or is likely to be sued, it has a legal duty to preserve documents and communications that could prove relevant to the case. But in several court cases in recent years, defendants have been accused of intentionally turning to private encrypted messaging apps like Signal, which can be configured to permanently erase messages after a certain amount of time, leaving no trace of what was said.

According to the FTC’s filing, Bezos instigated the use of Signal within Amazon, which it says began in 2019. The FTC said it first sent Amazon a letter asking it to preserve documents in June 2019, putting the company on notice that the agency was investigating it for possible unfair competition practices. But Amazon didn’t notify Bezos himself until April 2020, the FTC alleges, and various executives continued using Signal’s disappearing-message feature even after that. The company didn’t disclose the issue to the FTC until March 2022, the filing adds — days ahead of a Wall Street Journal story that publicized Amazon executives’ use of the app.

“Although the contents of deleted messages are impossible to recover, the app shows when a user turns the disappearing message feature on, off, or changes the timer for deletions, leaving breadcrumbs showing that Amazon executives’ deletions were widespread,” the filing says. It adds: “From the messages that were not deleted, it is apparent that Amazon executives used Signal to talk about competition-related business issues.”

Other executives accused of intentionally using encrypted, disappearing messages to interfere with court proceedings include current CEO Andy Jassy, General Counsel David Zapolsky, former CEO of Worldwide Consumer Jeff Wilke, and former CEO of Worldwide Operations Dave Clark.

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