Amazon's Legal Woes Grow as Austria Probes Online Giant
(Bloomberg) -- Amazon.com Inc.’s twin role as dominant retailer and platform for smaller firms sparked an investigation into suspected unfair practices in Austria that closely mirrors a similar probe in Germany.
The Austrian Federal Competition Authority (BWB) said it will examine whether Amazon is discriminating against stores using its platform and is favoring its own products on the Amazon marketplace.
“The digital world is not a legal vacuum,” BWB head Theodor Thanner said in a statement. “Companies operating on a global scale must adhere to applicable Austrian laws and regulations. The outcome might be commitments, an application for a fine or an application for termination of infringements to the Cartel Court.”
The investigation mirrors a German one into Amazon’s double role as the largest retailer and biggest online host for smaller stores. It also adds to European Union scrutiny of whether the company gathers information on rival sellers’ successes to help launch its own products.
The BWB received complaints from “a high double-digit number” of stores via the association of Austrian retailers, according to a spokeswoman.
Amazon’s own revenue in Austria was about 690 million euros ($777 million) in 2017 -- and stores using its marketplace sell at least another 700 million euros of goods, according to the Handelsverband retail association.
Europe is a tough regulatory landscape for big technology companies, with fines raining down on Google, Apple owing a hefty back-tax bill, and the threat of new laws to straitjacket how online platforms handle their customers. The German antitrust authority found a week ago that Facebook is squeezing unfair privacy terms on its users and told the company to stop tying membership on user’s agreeing to being tracked outside the platform.
Amazon will “cooperate fully with the Austrian competition authority and continue working hard to support small and medium-sized businesses and help them grow,” a spokesman said via email.
The BWB will be looking into practices such as the abrupt termination of seller-accounts, the obligation to disclose purchase prices, unjustifiably lower product rankings or jurisdiction clauses that complicate the stores’ legal actions, the BWB said. Part of the probe is a market survey to determine the size of the relevant market, it said.
EU member states have taken on Amazon before with antitrust measures. In 2013, it dropped a policy that forced retailers to always offer their lowest prices also at the Amazon marketplace after Germany and the U.K. probed the issue.
The BWB coordinated with the European Commission and the German cartel office before starting the probe, it said.
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