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.


IMF warns of Asia’s darkening growth outlook as trade war bites

Updated 18 October 2019

IMF warns of Asia’s darkening growth outlook as trade war bites

  • The IMF cut its economic growth forecast for the Asia-Pacific region to 5.0 percent for this year and 5.1 percent for 2020
  • It also slashed China’s growth forecast to 6.1 percent for this year and 5.8 percent for 2020
WASHINGTON: Asian nations face heightening risks to their economic outlooks as the US-China trade war and slumping Chinese demand hurt the world’s fastest-growing region, the International Monetary Fund said on Friday.
In its World Economic Outlook report on Tuesday, the IMF cut its economic growth forecast for the Asia-Pacific region to 5.0 percent for this year and 5.1 percent for 2020 — the slowest pace of expansion since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.
“Headwinds from global policy uncertainty and growth deceleration in major trading partners are taking a toll on manufacturing, investment, trade, and growth,” Changyong Rhee, director of the IMF’s Asia and Pacific department, said during a news conference at the IMF and World Bank fall meetings.
“Risks are skewed to the downside,” he said, calling on policymakers in the region to focus on near-term fiscal and monetary policy steps to spur growth.
“The intensification in trade tensions between the US and China could further weigh on confidence and financial markets, thereby weakening trade, investment and growth,” he said.
A faster-than-expected slowdown in China’s economic growth could also generate negative spillovers in the region, as many Asian countries have supply chains closely tied to China, he added.
The IMF slashed China’s growth forecast to 6.1 percent for this year and 5.8 percent for 2020, pointing to the impact from the trade conflict and tighter regulation to address excess debt.