Jeff Bezos
FTC probes Bezos' use of disappearing messages on Signal app. Wikimedia Commons

A recently released transcript revealed Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, was grilled by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over his use of Signal, an encrypted messaging app with a disappearing message feature.

Last week, the FTC filed a new complaint, including a previously unreported transcript of Bezos' testimony. The complaint accuses Bezos and other top Amazon executives of using Signal to destroy evidence in the ongoing antitrust lawsuit against the company.

The FTC's court filing alleges that Amazon executives continued deleting Signal messages after a 2019 request to preserve relevant documents. The court filing now seeks additional documents from Amazon concerning their use of ephemeral messaging apps like Signal.

According to the FTC's filing last week, Bezos allegedly urged other Amazon executives to communicate with him through Signal, an encrypted messaging app that can permanently auto-delete messages.

Bezos, FTC Clash Over Signal Use in Antitrust Probe

Bezos's testimony in October 2022 mainly revealed denials or refusals to answer FTC questions regarding using Signal with auto-delete. However, he suggested using Signal for unrelated sensitive matters until 2022.

Bezos also criticised the FTC's probe into its Prime program, launched in March 2021, as "burdensome." The transcript also shows vague answers from Bezos concerning his awareness of legal guidance on preserving relevant information.

"I don't know exactly when I stopped using it," Bezos said, according to the transcript. "But I tried very hard to be careful not to use it, to preserve messages and only use disappearing messages on things that were not, you know, responsive to these document preservation requests."

Signal app
Signal app offers an option to use disappearing massages. Twitter / Sayantan Hutait @Sayantan2689957

The transcript offers a rare and detailed glimpse into the tense meeting between Bezos and the FTC, which occurred when the e-commerce giant became a major target of the agency's antitrust push.

Last year, this tension led to the FTC suing Amazon for allegedly leveraging its market dominance to inflate prices and stifle competition. In response to the FTC's claims, an Amazon spokesperson called the agency's contentions "baseless" in an email to Business Insider. The company reiterated its denial of the antitrust lawsuit, dismissing it as "misguided."

Amazon countered the FTC's accusations by highlighting its prior cooperation. The company spokesperson noted that they had voluntarily disclosed limited Signal use by employees years ago, even allowing the FTC to inspect irrelevant conversations.

Aside from that, Amazon emphasised providing the agency with a vast amount of data, including 1.7 million documents and over 100 terabytes from various sources, to ensure a complete picture of their decision-making.

Bezos Explains Why He Started Using Signal

Bezos' testimony revealed that a prior phone hack motivated his choice to use Signal in early 2019. This switch was driven by Signal's end-to-end encryption, offering a significant security upgrade over standard text messages.

Bezos, touting Signal's enhanced security, encouraged some top Amazon executives to adopt the app, though he stopped short of mandating its use. For instance, he specifically recommended Signal to Mike Hopkins, Amazon's video streaming chief, as a "better way to communicate" with him.

"I try to use that for things that I considered especially sensitive, like the data security, certain personnel issues, certain sensitive PR issues. So I would turn it on and off, leaving the – only for those issues," Bezos said, according to the transcript.

Bezos acknowledged receiving the document-preservation notice but couldn't recall the specifics, including whether it applied to Signal messages. He also struggled to recall the exact timing of the notice or the legal guidance he received from Amazon's lawyers regarding Signal.

Pressed by the FTC lawyer on whether he continued using Signal's disappearing messages even after 2021, two years after the FTC's initial document preservation notice to Amazon, Bezos offered an uncertain response. He admitted he wasn't sure but conceded the possibility.

"I may have made mistakes in that regard from time to time," Bezos said. "I never would have used Signal under any circumstances with disappearing messages on or off to discuss any complicated business issues. It just doesn't make sense."