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Amazon reportedly changed its search algorithm to promote profitable products

The allegations are surfacing in the midst of an antitrust investigation

Photo (c) Andrei Stanescu - Getty Images
Amazon, which is currently facing antitrust investigations, is now being accused of changing its algorithms to promote products that would deliver high profit margins. 

The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the matter, reported Monday that Amazon tweaked its product-search algorithm late last year to elevate its own products over those from other sellers, despite internal objections to the idea.

In a statement to the Journal, the e-commerce giant said it has not "changed the criteria we use to rank search results to include profitability."

“Amazon designs its shopping and discovery experience to feature the products customers will want, regardless of whether they are our own brands or products offered by our selling partners,” Amazon spokeswoman Angie Newman said.

At this point, it’s not clear if the company’s changes resulted in higher profits.

Antitrust scrutiny

Amazon’s market dominance has landed it at the center of antitrust investigations in the U.S. and Europe

Towards the end of July, U.S. regulators announced that they would begin a broad antitrust probe of big tech companies. The Justice Department said the investigation would focus on how large tech companies achieved their market power and if they engaged in practices that “have reduced competition, stifled innovation, or otherwise harmed consumers.” 

Last week, bipartisan leaders of the House Judiciary Committee requested documents from the company related to how its own products factor into its algorithm. 

“Today’s document requests are an important milestone in this investigation as we work to obtain the information that our Members need to make this determination,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), leader of the antitrust investigation, in a statement.

Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), the ranking Republican on the full Judiciary Committee, added that “this information is key in helping determine whether anticompetitive behavior is occurring, whether our antitrust enforcement agencies should investigate specific issues and whether or not our antitrust laws need improvement to better promote competition in the digital markets.” 

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