Big Tech took another hit in Washington Friday as six people were indicted for bribing Amazon employees to get sales advantages and to disadvantage competitors in the powerhouse online market. It was an unfair competitive advantage the Justice Department said was worth in excess of $100 million and included reinstating suspect products like dietary supplements and potentially dangerous electronics.
The defendants were charged with conspiracy to use a communications facility to commit commercial bribery, as well as conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and wire fraud itself.
According to Justice, the accused paid over $100,000 to corrupt most of a dozen Amazon employees and contractors, who proceeded to facilitate attacks on competitors' accounts and listings, provide information on Amazon's internal algorithms and to benefit the defendants by reinstating products that had been suspended or blocked from Amazon, including dietary supplements that were the subject of consumer complaints, electronics identified as flammable, and products flagged for IP violations.
They also reinstated accounts that had been identified as deceiving consumers.
Also, in exchange for bribes the employees and contractors increased the defendant's storage limits in Amazon warehouses and provided insider information of the most successful online ad campaigns and product listings.
The defendants will make their initial appearances in a U.S. District Court in Seattle Oct. 15. They face up to a $250,000 fine and 15 years in prison on the bribery and unauthorized access charges and up to $250,000 and 20 years in prison for the conspiracy and wire fraud.
“As the world moves increasingly to online commerce [propelled in part by the COVID-10 pandemic], we must ensure that the marketplace is not corrupted with unfair advantages obtained by bribes and kick‑backs,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran in a statement. “The ultimate victim from this criminal conduct is the buying public who get inferior or even dangerous goods that should have been removed from the marketplace. I commend the investigators and cybersecurity experts who have worked to identify and indict those engaged in these illegal schemes.”
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.