Amazon in EU Crosshairs as Vestager Fights Big Tech to the End
Amazon.com Inc. faces a full-blown European Union antitrust probe as the bloc’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager prepares for a summer finale to her five-year crackdown on U.S. technology giants.
The Dane, who heads the EU’s competition division, is poised to open a formal investigation into Amazon within days, according to two people familiar with the case, who asked not to be named because the process isn’t public.
Vestager has hinted for months that she wanted to escalate a preliminary inquiry into how Amazon may be unfairly using sales data to undercut smaller shops on its Marketplace platform. By ramping up the probe, officials can start to build a case that could ultimately lead to fines or an order to change the way the Seattle-based company operates.
“If powerful platforms are found to use data they amass to get an edge over their competitors, both consumers and the market bear the cost,” said Johannes Kleis of BEUC, the European consumer organization in Brussels.
The probe comes as Qualcomm Inc. could be hit with a second hefty EU penalty as soon as next week for allegedly underpricing chips to squeeze a smaller competitor. The U.S. chipmaker was fined last year for thwarting rival suppliers to Apple Inc. and has been the subject of on-and-off antitrust scrutiny since 2005.
Vestager has already slapped Google with record fines and ordered Apple to repay billions of euros in back taxes. By taking on Amazon’s Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, Vestager is keeping up the pressure on big tech right to the very end of her mandate, due to expire in October.
Amazon and the European Commission in Brussels both declined to comment on the plans to open the probe. Qualcomm representatives declined to immediately comment.
While it will be the first time the EU has directly targeted Amazon’s online retail business model, it’s the third time the company has been probed by the regulator, following tax and e-book investigations.
Although Google has been fined once a year for the past three years, racking up 8.2 billion euros ($9.2 billion) in penalties, the Alphabet Inc. unit still faces early-stage inquiries into local business and jobs searches. Apple also has to contend with a complaint from Spotify Technology SA and Facebook Inc. is getting questions on how it uses and shares data from apps.
©2019 Bloomberg L.P.