EU launches in-depth probe on Amazon over data use

The EU investigation involves Amazon’s service to third party merchants who use the world’s biggest online retailer to access customers and broaden their reach. (AFP)
Updated 17 July 2019

EU launches in-depth probe on Amazon over data use

  • Formal investigation opens a new chapter in the EU’s campaign to address the dominance of US tech firms
  • At the heart of the case is Amazon’s service to third party merchants

BRUSSELS: The EU’s powerful antitrust authority launched an in-depth investigation into Amazon on Wednesday, amid suspicions the US-based online behemoth misuses merchant data hosted on its website.
The formal investigation opens a new chapter in the European Union’s campaign to address the dominance of US tech firms with Google, Facebook and Apple also regular targets of regulators in Brussels.
With its probe, the EU competition watchdog is seeking to expand its oversight powers to data, the most prized asset for Silicon Valley giants that now dominate web-use worldwide.
“I have ... decided to take a very close look at Amazon’s business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer (and) to assess its compliance with EU competition rules,” the EU’s anti-trust commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.
At the heart of the case is Amazon’s service to third party merchants who use the world’s biggest online retailer to access customers and broaden their reach.
In providing this service, Amazon “continuously collects data about the activity on its platform,” the commission said.
Preliminary findings, according to the statement, indicate that Amazon “appears to use competitively sensitive information — about marketplace sellers, their products and transactions on the marketplace.”
The opening of a formal investigation procedure does not prejudge its outcome, but if fault is found the sanctions by the EU can reach up to 10 percent of sales.
“The stakes for the digital economy are high, because any action by the Commission can have an impact on the business model of web giants, which is based on data accumulation,” said Andrea Collart, of the consulting firm Avisa in Brussels.
The investigation, which has no deadline, is likely to be the final offensive by Vestager against big tech before the end of her current mandate on October 31.
In an email to AFP, Amazon said: “We will cooperate fully with the European Commission and continue working hard to support businesses of all sizes and help them grow.”
The probe adds to Vestager’s long list of cases against US Big Tech.
During her five-year term, Brussels has slapped Google with a combined $9.5 billion in antitrust fines and scrutinized Apple and Facebook for breaches of competition, tax and data rules.
Amazon in 2017 was ordered to pay back taxes of about €250 million to Luxembourg because of illegal tax breaks.
The company also settled with Brussels over its distribution deals with e-book publishers in Europe.


China appeals to Washington for quick end to trade war

Updated 14 min 26 sec ago

China appeals to Washington for quick end to trade war

  • Beijing says it will buy more American goods but has yet to confirm the details
  • Tariff hikes by both sides on billions of dollars of imports have battered factories and farmers

BEIJING: China appealed to Washington for a quick end to their trade war but gave no indication Thursday what additional steps Beijing might want before carrying out what President Donald Trump says is a promise to buy up to $50 billion of American farm goods.
Trump agreed Friday to delay a tariff hike in exchange for Chinese purchases of US exports. Beijing says it will buy more American goods but has yet to confirm the details, leaving companies wondering whether Chinese leaders have other demands including a possible end to punitive US tariffs before that goes ahead.
Negotiators are “striving to reach a consensus on the text of the agreement as soon as possible,” said a Ministry of Commerce spokesman, Gao Feng. “I can’t disclose the specific details.”
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters Wednesday that officials were still ironing out details of a preliminary agreement.
Companies welcomed the deal as a small but promising possible step toward breaking a deadlock in the 15-month-old fight over China’s trade surplus and technology ambitions.
Tariff hikes by both sides on billions of dollars of imports have battered factories and farmers, weighing on global economic growth. Trump delayed a tariff due to take effect Tuesday on $250 billion of Chinese goods but another increase on $160 billion of imports still is scheduled for Dec. 15.
Economists warned the truce fails to address more basic complaints about Beijing’s plans for government-led creation of global competitors in robotics and other technologies.
Washington, Europe, Japan and other trading partners say those violate Chinese market-opening commitments and are based on stealing or pressuring companies to hand over know-how.
China wants “economic and trade relations back on the right track at an early date,” Gao said at a weekly news briefing.
Achieving results will “restore market confidence and also is highly significant for stabilizing the global economic situation,” he said.
On Tuesday, a foreign ministry spokesman said China would “further speed up procurement” of American farm exports but gave no scale or time frame.
China has bought 20 million tons of US soybeans and 700,000 tons of pork this year, according to the spokesman, Geng Shuang. China imported about 33 million tons of American soybeans annually before the tariff fight and collapsed to 16.6 million tons last year.