EU hits Amazon with antitrust charges

Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner who oversees competition, will announce formal antitrust charges against Amazon on Tuesday over how it uses data about the merchants on its platform, according to two people with knowledge of the announcement.

The case focuses on the online retailer’s dual role, both as a marketplace for third-party vendors and also as a competitor which sells its own goods, these people said. 

The charge sheet, which is part of a probe that started nearly two years ago, fleshes out concerns that Amazon may be abusing its role by using the data it gathers on merchants to compete against them.

Amazon declined to comment. In the past the company has played down antitrust concerns, noting that many retailers have their own private label offerings, and that online sales represent only a small sliver of the overall retail sector.

Independent merchants are free to use some or all of Amazon’s services and can expand their reach and start selling online with limited initial investment, the company has noted.

The European Commission did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Amazon’s business practices have been under scrutiny elsewhere in the EU and in the US. In 2018 the German antitrust watchdog launched a probe into its dual role as both marketplace for seller and seller of its own brands, looking into whether it used its market power to set illegal contract terms. 

In the US Amazon is part of a group of companies under scrutiny by the House Judiciary Committee. The Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission have also launched antitrust probes against Amazon.

The formal charges against Amazon will reinforce Ms Vestager’s reputation as a tough enforcer with an emphasis on tackling market rigging, consumer abuse and tax dodging. The Dane, who is serving her second term as competition commissioner, has led big battles against some of the biggest names in tech.

Under her mandate, the EU has fined Google more than €8bn in three separate antitrust cases while Apple has been ordered to pay €13bn in back taxes to the Irish government. Both companies have appealed.

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