Big River Services International: Amazon’s Shell Company Used To Spy on Competitors

Amazon created a shell company to spy on rival e-commerce marketplaces like eBay, Shopify, and Walmart.
April 22, 2024
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Spying on competitors is not new.

Facebook wrote custom software to spy on encrypted app traffic from Snapchat, YouTube, and Amazon. Waymo sued Uber for acquiring a company run by a former employee who stole confidential files full of trade secrets.

Amazon took it one step further.

An investigative report from The Wall Street Journal revealed that Amazon created a shell company called Big River Services International (BRSI) to spy on its competitors. BRSI sells ~$1 million worth of goods – clothing merchandise they purchased from retailers holding “going out of business” sales – annually through rival e-commerce marketplaces like eBay, Shopify, and Walmart under various brand names like Rapid Cascade.

BRSI uses its sales to help Amazon obtain pricing data, logistics information, and other details about its rivals. The Amazon employees operating BRSI also attend their rivals’ seller conferences and meet with their competitors directly—identifying themselves only as BRSI employees, never Amazon.

They also took extraordinary measures to keep the project secret internally. For example, they shared their reports and findings with Amazon executives using printed, numbered copies rather than email.

Is what Amazon did legal?

Likely not. Elizabeth Rowe, a University of Virginia School of Law professor specializing in trade secret law, shared, “Misrepresenting themselves to competitors to gain proprietary information can lead to suits on trade secret misappropriation.”

It’s a good thing Amazon’s legal team isn’t that busy…they’re only battling antitrust charges brought last year by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and 17 states.

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