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Germany opens ‘anti-competition’ probe into Amazon with tougher law

Germany's competition authority said Tuesday it had opened an inquiry into online retail giant Amazon over potential "anti-competitive practices", using a new law giving regulators more power to rein in big tech companies.

Germany opens 'anti-competition' probe into Amazon with tougher law
An Amazon warehouse in Brandenburg. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

Federal Cartel Office head Andreas Mundt said his office is examining whether Amazon has “an almost unchallengeable position of economic power” and whether it “operates across various markets”.

If so, it would be deemed of “paramount significance”, said Mundt, adding that the regulator could “take early action against and prohibit possible anti-competitive practices by Amazon”.

“This could apply to Amazon with its online marketplaces and many other, above all digital offers,” he added.

Under the amendment to Germany’s competition law passed in January, the watchdog said it now has more power to “intervene earlier and more effectively” against big tech companies, rather than simply punishing them for abuses of their dominant market position.

READ ALSO: ‘I want to know origin of my grapes’: Amazon loses fruit and veg ruling in German court

The German reform coincided with new EU draft legislation unveiled in December aimed at curbing the power of the internet behemoths that could shake up the way Silicon Valley can operate in the 27-nation bloc.

The push to tighten legislation comes as big tech companies are facing increasing scrutiny around the globe, including in the United States, where Google and Facebook are facing antitrust suits.

The Amazon probe is only the second time that Germany’s Federal Cartel Office has made use of its new powers, after first employing them to widen the scope of an investigation into Facebook over its integration of virtual reality headsets.

The watchdog already has two traditional abuse control proceedings open against Amazon.

One involves the company’s use of algorithms to influence the pricing of third-party sellers on Amazon Marketplace, while another is probing the extent to which Amazon and major producers such as Apple exclude third parties from
selling brand products.

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TECH

Google to appeal €500m French fine in copyright row

Google's legal tussle with French regulators continues.

Google to appeal €500m French fine in copyright row
Google to appeal €500m French fine in copyright row (Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

Google on Wednesday said it is appealing a decision by France’s competition watchdog to hand it a €500m fine in a row with news outlets over the use of their content under EU copyright rules.

“We disagree with some of the legal elements, and consider the amount of the fine to be disproportionate compared to the efforts we have put in place to reach a deal and respect the new law,” Sebastien Missoffe, head of Google France, said in a statement.

The fine, issued by the French Competition Authority in July, was the biggest in the agency’s history for a failure to comply with one of its rulings.

Head of Google France, Sebastien Missoffe, has hit back against French regulators (Photo by JACQUES DEMARTHON / AFP)

The watchdog said Google had failed to negotiate “in good faith” with media companies in a long-running legal battle over the internet giant’s use of snippets of articles, photos and videos in search results.

The row has centred on claims that Google has used this content in its search results without adequate compensation, despite the seismic shift of global advertising revenues towards the search giant over the past two decades.

In April last year, the French competition authority ordered Google to negotiate “in good faith” with media groups after it refused to comply with a 2019 European Union law governing digital copyright.

The so-called “neighbouring rights” aim to ensure that news publishers are compensated when their work is shown on websites, search engines and social media platforms.

Last September, French news publishers including Agence France-Presse (AFP) filed a complaint with regulators, saying Google was refusing to move forward on paying to display content in web searches.

While Google insists it has made progress, the French regulator said the company’s behaviour “indicates a deliberate, elaborate and systematic lack of respect” for its order to negotiate in good faith.

The Competition Authority rebuked Google for failing to “have a specific discussion” with media companies about neighbouring rights during negotiations over its Google Showcase news service, which launched late last year.

Missoffe insisted Wednesday that Google “recognises neighbouring rights, and we remain committed to signing agreements in France”.

“We have extended our offers to nearly 1,200 publishers and modified aspects of our contracts,” he said, adding that the company has “shared data demanded of us in order to conform to the Competition Authority’s decision”.

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