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Report: Federal government preparing litigation blitz against Amazon

Photo by DARREN STAPLES/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is nearing launch of a multi-pronged litigation blitz against Amazon, Politico reported Monday.

Mergers, antitrust issues, and privacy concerns are reportedly all on the table as the Federal Trade Commission prepares to take on one of American's most formidable tech titans.

The agency has been investigating Amazon since late in the Trump administration with respect to possible violations of consumers' privacy via the company's Ring security products and its Alexa digital assistant.

Politico's anonymous sources, reportedly with direct knowledge of the FTC's plans, say the agency is pursuing Amazon on several fronts.

One investigation, for which a case could be brought in the next few months, involves Roombas. Amazon is looking to acquire iRobot, the company that makes the robotic vacuums, for $1.7 billion. The FTC may move to stop the deal. The agency cites multiple concerns about the possible acquisition, including the possibility that Amazon will favor Roombas over competing brands and might make Roombas unavailable to non-Amazon sellers.

Another major investigation involving privacy centers on Amazon's Ring security systems and its Alexa voice assistant. That investigation, according to Politico's sources, may also come in the next couple of months. Of concern are potential violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

COPPA, the FTC says, "imposes certain requirements on operators of websites or online services directed to children under 13 years of age, and on operators of other websites or online services that have actual knowledge that they are collecting personal information online from a child under 13 years of age."

A third target slated for FTC's scrutiny is Amazon's subscription service, Amazon Prime, as the Wall Street Journal reported last week. In this non-antitrust matter, the FTC is reportedly looking at whether the company misleads consumers into signing up. In addition, the agency charged with protecting America's consumers is examining whether "dark patterns" are making it difficult for purchasers to unsubscribe.

One potentially significant antitrust-related area where Amazon may apparently get a pass is its $3.9 billion purchase of primary care company One Medical. The FTC's failure to pursue the One Medical acquisition, according to Politico, is an example of the huge difficulty of getting the data needed to build a case when the target controls that very data.

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