Wednesday 17 July 2019 11:04 am

EU targets Amazon in e-commerce antitrust probe

Amazon is the subject of the EU’s latest antitrust probe, with the European Commission accusing the tech giant of abusing its dominance in e-commerce.

The investigation, which began today, could see CEO Jeff Bezos’ retail behemoth lumped with a multi-billion dollar fine similar to other penalties issued to tech giant Google.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said: “European consumers are increasingly shopping online. E-commerce has boosted retail competition and brought more choice and better prices.

Read more: Google files appeal against EU €4.3bn Android fine

“We need to ensure that large online platforms don’t eliminate these benefits through anti-competitive behaviour.

“I have therefore decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules.”

The investigation will centre on whether Amazon uses its troves of sales data to unfairly prioritise its own products over smaller sellers on its online marketplace.

The European Commission will examine whether Amazon’s agreements with marketplace sellers affect competition.

Those agreements allow Amazon to analyse and use third party sellers’ data.

Meanwhile, investigators will also assess the role of data in selecting winners of Amazon’s Buy Box. This is an area on Amazon’s site that lets customers add products from specific retailers directly into their shopping carts.

“Winning the Buy Box seems key for marketplace sellers as a vast majority of transactions are done through it,” the Commission said.

“We will cooperate fully with the European Commission and continue working hard to support businesses of all sizes and help them grow,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

Vestager has already levied multiple major fines against Silicon Valley tech firms in recent years, serving Google with a number of record penalties and forcing Apple to repay Ireland billions of euros in back taxes.

US President Donald Trump attacked the commissioner last month over her pursuit of the country’s largest companies, tweeting that she “hates the US”.

A commission spokesperson declined to comment, while Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

The report came as Amazon faced heavy questioning from US politicians on its compliance with antitrust regulation tonight, particularly regarding its treatment of third-party sellers on its platform.

Executives from Facebook, Google and Apple also testified at the hearing, with scrutiny falling on all four tech firms’ strategies on acquiring competitor startups.

At a separate hearing yesterday, US senators called Facebook’s recent plan to launch a cryptocurrency “delusional” given the company’s track record on data privacy.

Read more: Facebook’s cryptocurrency could run into tax trouble

Facebook’s crypto chief David Marcus said the firm would not launch its currency Libra until it had secured sufficient regulatory approval.

The value of bitcoin tumbled on the politicians’ negative remarks, falling more than 11 per cent to drop below the $10,000 marker for the first time in two weeks.

“Libra is essentially slammed in the Senate,” said Lennon Sweeting, head trader at Coinsquare Capital Markets. “It’s just headline-driven volatility.”

Main image credit: Getty