Following in the rich traditions of Microsoft, Intel, Apple, and Google, Amazon has finally found itself the subject of an EU antitrust investigation.
I’ve not found any mention of this on the European Commission website yet, but Bloomberg is reporting that the EC has launched a preliminary investigation of how Amazon gathers information on sales made by competitors on Amazon Marketplace and whether that gives it an unfair advantage when it sells to customers directly.
“The question here is about the data” that Amazon collects from smaller merchants on its site, EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said during a press conference today in Brussels. “Do you then also use this data to do your own calculations, as to what is the new big thing, what is it that people want, what kind of offers do they like to receive, what makes them buy things? That has made us start a preliminary [investigation].”
In an interesting coincidence, I just talked about how Amazon’s ability to monitor customer shopping searches on its website gives it an unfair advantage on yesterday’s First Ring Daily. This capability matches Google’s ability to do so with its web search engine, and the result has been illegal behavior: Google artificially promotes its own services over those that would normally figure more prominently in the search results.
It’s not clear yet whether the EU probe will result in charges: Ms. Vestager says that the Commission is now questioning Amazon and its partners and competitors. And Amazon, of course, has been a frequent target of U.S. president He Who Shall Not Be Named, who has eloquently referred to a “very antitrust situation” regarding Amazon.
So we’ll see what happens. But Amazon, like the U.S. tech giants that had previously fallen under the cold eye of the EU, certainly needs some oversight. If only to ensure that it doesn’t abuse its market power and harm consumers and competitors alike.