The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has unveiled fresh details in a less-redacted complaint against Amazon.com, alleging that the e-commerce giant doubled the number of low-quality advertisements on its platform to enhance profits. The complaint further claims that Amazon engaged in the deletion of internal communications as an attempt to hinder a federal antitrust investigation.
According to the LA Times, the FTC’s complaint revealed that Jeff Bezos, the founder and former CEO of Amazon, personally directed company executives to increase the volume of advertisements, even those that Amazon’s own internal assessments labeled as “defects.” These defects signified that these ads were not relevant to user searches, thus affecting the overall shopping experience.
The FTC contends that Amazon’s strategy of flooding its platform with ads not only contributes to the company’s profit growth but also harms both sellers and consumers. This influx of ads reportedly makes it increasingly challenging for customers to locate the products they are actively seeking.
Quoting Amazon executives, the FTC revealed that they deemed it advantageous to increase the number of advertisements shown to shoppers. The complaint even cited an executive who highlighted the problem of “buck urine” ads appearing in response to searches for unrelated items, such as “water bottles” or T-shirts for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team showing up when users searched for the merchandise of the Seattle Seahawks football team, per the LA Times.
Amazon’s advertising revenue soared in the third quarter of 2023, with the company reporting an impressive $12.1 billion. This revenue has solidified Amazon’s ad unit as its fastest-growing business segment.
Furthermore, the FTC’s complaint alleges that Amazon took additional measures to obstruct the antitrust probe. The company reportedly employed the “disappearing message” feature of Signal, a secure messaging app, to erase internal communications. It is claimed that Amazon deleted over two years’ worth of such communications, spanning from June 2019 to at least early 2022.