Amazon Under Fire in Europe as Germany Adds Antitrust Probe

Amazon Under Fire in Europe as Germany Adds Antitrust Probe

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Amazon’s double role as Germany’s largest retailer and biggest online host for smaller stores is the target of an antitrust probe into the terms the company sets for other sellers, according to Bloomberg.

The investigation into Amazon’s biggest market outside the U.S. adds to European Union scrutiny of whether the company gathers information on rival sellers’ successes to help launch its own products. German Federal Cartel Office said they’d received "numerous" complaints from sellers.

"Amazon functions as a kind of gatekeeper for customers," said Andreas Mundt, the head of the authority, the Bundeskartellamt, in an emailed press release. "Its double role as the largest retailer and largest marketplace has the potential to hinder other sellers on its platform." Amazon "will cooperate with the Bundeskartellamt and continue working hard to support small and medium-sized businesses and help them grow," the company said in an emailed statement.

Mundt will be looking at terms of business and related practices that breach antitrust rules. That includes liability provisions that could disadvantage sellers, contract clauses that restrict where sellers can take lawsuits against Amazon, rules on product reviews and the "non-transparent" process of blocking and closing sellers accounts. The probe will also look at withholding or delaying payment and clauses that assign rights to use information a seller must provide on the products it offers and the terms of business for delivery.

The German authority must prove that Amazon holds a “dominant position” or that the sellers are dependent on the company. "There are indications of both," it said in its press release, adding that it saw "a possible market for marketplace services for online sales to consumers." If regulators prove their case, they would be putting online platforms in the firing line for how they treat users, moving away from an older way of looking at buyers or sellers.

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