Why Amazon is suddenly going on the offensive amid a growing techlash

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Amazon HQ
The view from inside an Amazon building in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon is finding its voice.

The notoriously quiet company known for keeping its head down, focusing on the work, and rarely commenting on controversy is whistling a new tune. Over the past few weeks, Amazon has been vocal on Twitter, in particular calling out prominent politicians who criticize the company.

The latest: On Monday morning, Amazon tweeted a video of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In an interview with ABC News, the progressive firebrand accused Amazon of paying its warehouse workers “starvation wages” and criticized the company for seeking billions of dollars in government subsidies.

Amazon shot back, saying Ocasio-Cortez is “just wrong.” Ironically, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 per hour last year in response to a steady drumbeat of criticism from Sen. Bernie Sanders, a mentor of Ocasio-Cortez.

Fighting words: Amazon’s clapback at Ocasio-Cortez isn’t an isolated incident. Last week, Amazon responded to former Vice President Joe Biden when he said that “no company pulling in billions of dollars of profits should pay a lower tax rate than firefighters and teachers.”

Earlier this year, Amazon got into a testy back-and-forth with Sen. Elizabeth Warren over allegations that the company uses its dominance to gain an edge over third-party sellers in its marketplace.

Driving the shift: Big tech companies are sensitive to the changing tide of public opinion. Americans have grown skeptical of Big Tech in the wake of privacy scandals, data breaches, sexual harassment allegations and — perhaps most importantly — antitrust concerns. U.S. regulators have launched an antitrust probe into Amazon, Apple, and Google. Warren is taking the most aggressive approach, with a proposal to break up Big Tech. The antitrust issue appears to be a particularly sensitive spot for Amazon.

Why it matters: For years, Amazon has been a devout follower of the “show don’t tell” dogma, preferring to focus on customers over engaging with the media and politicians. The abrupt tack shows that talk of regulation is getting under Amazon’s skin. Frustration with Big Tech is a rare bipartisan issue. Politicians seeking the presidency in 2020 will continue to take advantage of it as the election draws nearer — and it’s not just talk. The U.S. antitrust inquiry shows that the issues raised on the campaign trail have real teeth.

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