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Amazon aware third-party seller data was used to boost own sales: Report

Amazon was aware that third-party seller data was used by employees to boost its own sales, Politico reported based on an internal audit from 2015. The audit report had warned Amazon’s senior leadership that thousands of employees in its workforce had unauthorised access to seller data and at least in one instance this was used to improve sales of Amazon’s private labels, the report stated.

This revelation comes at a time when antitrust regulators around the world are scrutinising Amazon’s dual role as marketplace and seller. Last August, the United States House of Representations’ Judiciary Sub-Committee on antitrust grilled the e-commerce giant over its treatment of third-party seller data. The committee cited multiple reports that alleged Amazon of misusing its position to build competing products, but the company did not concede the same. The closest it came was when Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos told the committee that although the company has a policy prohibiting employees from accessing third-party seller, he cannot guarantee that this policy has never been violated.

The same month, the All India Online Vendors Association (AIOVA), a trade union representing online sellers in the country, filed an antitrust suit against Amazon India for unfair trade practices. The Indian government is currently investigating the allegations. In November 2020, the European Commission made its strongest move against Amazon when it accused the company of “systematically relying on non-public business data” of sellers to its own advantage and launched an investigation into the company’s practices in Germany and France.

An Amazon spokesperson told Politico that it audits its policies, including its seller data protection policy, which limits the use of seller data, for compliance and makes improvements based on its findings.

What does the audit say?

The audit revealed that many in Amazon’s leadership, including Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s former CEO Worldwide Consume and David Zapolsky, General Counsel, knew that there were insufficient IT access restrictions, which allowed many employees to inappropriately use seller data. The audit also revealed that an internal audit in 2010 had similar findings, but the company did little to rectify this situation, the report stated.

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Following the 2015 audit, Amazon once again set out to address the problems. But a former information security insider called the follow-up “murky” and said a lot of the access control problems lasted till 2018, according to Politico.

“Permissions are not adequately restricted, making it possible for unauthorized users to view Seller-specific information such as performance history and authentication keys, edit inventory levels and pricing, and manage returns.” – Amazon’s 2015 internal audit

The audit shed more light on a tool internally referred to as “spoofer access” that allowed employees to conceal their identity and access seller accounts. Such a tool should have restricted access, but Amazon left it wide open to employees from around the world, the report stated. In addition to this tool leaving few digital traces, Amazon only retained activity logs for thirty days, which made it harder to track abuse. This suggests that the actual abuse of this tool might be more widespread than the single case the audit revealed, Politico stated. It is not known if the spoofer access tool is still in use at the company.

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