FTC accuses Jeff Bezos and Amazon CEO Jassy of using auto-deleting messages to obstruct antitrust case

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What just happened? Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and current CEO Andy Jassy are just two of several company executives the FTC has accused of destroying text messages. The agency alleges the texts could have been used as evidence against the tech giant in its antitrust case.

The FTC said in a court filing last week that the execs used encrypted messaging platform Signal between April 2019 and May 2022. They’re also accused of using the disappearing messages feature in the app that ensured the messages weren’t retained, writes Bloomberg.

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The executives reportedly started using Signal after Bezos’ phone was hacked in 2018 via a WhatsApp message. Bezos later said the National Enquirer tabloid was extorting and blackmailing him, threatening to publish private photos and texts taken from his phone.

The FTC filed a motion to compel last week, asking a judge to force Amazon to “produce documents related to the company’s failure to preserve Signal messages.” It also wants to know what executives told employees about when to communicate via Signal.

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The FTC wants the information to assess whether Amazon failed to take reasonable steps to preserve documents, and to determine what was destroyed.

An Amazon spokesperson said the company 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 antitrust investigation into Amazon started in 2019, requiring the company to retain documents and turn them over to the FTC. The suit’s main allegation is that Amazon abuses its dominance in the market to reward merchants who use its logistics (warehousing, shipping) and advertising services, punish those who don’t, and block lower prices on competing websites.

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Among the suit’s claims is that Amazon requires third-party retailers on its site to offer goods at their lowest prices on the platform, meaning they can’t be found cheaper than on Amazon. The company previously denied these allegations, claiming that sellers decide their own prices.

Google has also been accused of instructing its employees to use the disappearing messages feature, which automatically deletes them after 24 hours, for internal communications when sensitive subject matters are being discussed. The Justice Department has sought sanctions against the company over the issue, though a judge has yet to rule on the request.

Bloomberg notes that the FTC could refer any wrongdoing it uncovers to the Justice Department if it discovers anyone deliberately destroyed evidence.

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