Friday, December 4, 2020

EU unveils antitrust charges against Amazon

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The European Commission said on Tuesday that it charged Amazon with systematically relying on data from third-party sellers to the benefit of the e-commerce giant’s own retail business.

Brussels also opened a second investigation into Amazon’s Buy Box, looking into “the possible preferential treatment of Amazon’s own retail offers and those of marketplace sellers that use Amazon’s logistics and delivery services.”

“Data on the activity of third party sellers should not be used to the benefit of Amazon when it acts as a competitor to these sellers,” EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said.

The Commission’s in-depth investigation — opened in July 2019 — showed that “very large quantities of non-public seller data are available to employees of Amazon’s retail business and flow directly into the automated systems of that business.”

According to EU officials, the data is used there to “calibrate Amazon’s retail offers and strategic business decisions to the detriment of the other marketplace sellers.

The statement of objections comes as antitrust officials across the 27-country bloc, the United States and elsewhere are increasing their scrutiny over how these companies operate across the global digital economy.

“We disagree with the preliminary assertions of the European Commission and will continue to make every effort to ensure it has an accurate understanding of the facts,” an Amazon spokesperson said. “Amazon represents less than 1 percent of the global retail market, and there are larger retailers in every country in which we operate.”

The Commission on Tuesday also opened a separate in-depth investigation into Amazon’s alleged favoring of retail offers that use its logistics and delivery services.

Brussels will investigate the criteria that Amazon sets to select the winner of the Buy Box — a pop-up window showing customers additional products when they proceed with a purchase — and to enable sellers to offer products to Prime users.

“Its rules should not artificially favor Amazon’s own retail offers or advantage the offers of retailers using Amazon’s logistics and delivery services,” Vestager said.

The announcement is the latest move from Vestager, the Danish politician now in charge of both the bloc’s competition enforcement and its broader digital strategy. Vestager also recently lost a court case against how Apple was taxed in Ireland, a blow to her reputation compounded by the fact that her efforts to curtail Google’s anticompetitive behavior have failed to dent the search giant’s dominance.

By focusing on Amazon’s potential misuse of data, the Commission is opening up a new line of attack against some of the world’s most powerful companies, and is following in the footsteps of national regulators, notably those in Germany, who have similarly focused on the e-commerce giant’s online activities over the last 18 months.

In an antitrust report released last month, the U.S. House of Representatives also singled out Amazon, alongside Google, Apple, and Facebook, for their alleged practices of favoring their own digital services over those of rivals. The companies deny any wrongdoing.

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