Vestager said that Amazon illegally harvests data from the third-party sellers in Amazon Marketplace to make decisions about the products it sells itself on its platform.
“Amazon illegally distorted competition in online retail markets,” Vestager told reporters. “This is a case about big data.
“We do not take issue with the success of Amazon or its size,” she said. “Our concern is very specific business conducts which appears to distort genuine competition.”
Amazon will have the chance to answer the charges in the coming weeks, Vestager said. The preliminary accusations are the next stage of an investigation into Amazon’s trade practices that Vestager announced in July 2019. (Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
“We disagree with the preliminary assertions of the European Commission and will continue to make every effort to ensure it has an accurate understanding of the facts,” the company said in a statement. “Amazon represents less than 1% of the global retail market, and there are larger retailers in every country in which we operate.”
Tuesday’s charges focus on Amazon’s trade practices in France, where 70 percent of online consumers bought something from the company in the last year, and Germany, where 80 percent of consumers had done so, Vestager said. Amazon is a major player in most E.U. countries, but its market share does not always meet the bar for heightened legal scrutiny.
She said that the alleged abuse resulted from Amazon’s mixing its role as a retailer that sells products directly to customers and its role as a platform for other retailers to sell merchandise. The company takes data from the 800,000 sellers on its European websites to make decisions about what products it should sell itself.
“The use of these data allows Amazon to focus on the sale of the best-selling products, and this marginalizes third-party sellers and caps their ability to grow,” she said.
Vestager also announced an ongoing investigation into whether Amazon unfairly features products on its website whose sellers use Amazon’s warehouse and logistics services. The inquiry looks at whether the company illegally prioritizes those products in its “buy box,” the featured spot on the right side of an Amazon page that its customers typically use to purchase an item.
Vestager has been in office for six years, a stretch during which she has pursued U.S. tech giants for their trade practices, often more aggressively than her U.S. counterparts.