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British government set to add Amazon to tech scrutiny list for data use

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-06-11 09:31
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The logo for Amazon Web Services (AWS) is seen at the SIBOS banking and financial conference in Toronto, Ontario, on Oct 19, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

Amazon could find its use of data under scrutiny once again after reports that the United Kingdom competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, or CMA, has been studying it in the run-up to launching a formal investigation into its practices, similar to one already being carried out by the European Union.

Although specific details of its remit have yet to be confirmed, the Financial Times reports that one of the Amazon inquiry's focuses could be allegations of preferential treatment for merchants who use its delivery and logistics services.

Neither the CMA, nor Amazon, which last month announced the creation of a further 10,000 jobs in the UK, taking its workforce there up to 55,000, commented on the paper's report.

The EU is already carrying out two ongoing investigations into Amazon, one of which, looking at how data is used to its advantage over its rivals, is described by the FT as being "in its advanced stages", with the other relating to how products are promoted into the 'buy box' when users are shopping.

In addition to the EU investigation, Amazon is also being studied by Germany's Federal Cartel Office, to see if it had what it called an "almost unchallenged position of economic power", as well as looking at its price control mechanisms and its relationship with traders on its platforms.

Reports of an upcoming CMA investigation emerged days after the government confirmed that the CMA was to look at claims that another global technology company, Facebook, had unfairly used the data gained from advertising and signing-in processes to benefit its own services, most specifically the classified ads section known as Facebook Marketplace, and Facebook Dating.

"We will be working closely with the European Commission as we each investigate these issues, as well as continuing our coordination with other agencies to tackle these global issues," said the CMA's chief executive, Andrea Coscelli.

The FT quoted an unnamed official from the CMA as saying it was eager to have a "full portfolio" of cases against major international technology companies, having also begun investigations into Google and the Apple app store relating to suspected breaches of competition law. The EU is also conducting a similar probe into Facebook's business behavior.

"Facebook collects vast troves of data on the activities of users of its social network and beyond, enabling it to target specific customer groups," said European Commission competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a statement.

"We will look in detail at whether this data gives Facebook an undue competitive advantage, in particular on the online classified ads sector, where people buy and sell goods every day, and where Facebook also competes with companies from which it collects data.

"In today's digital economy, data should not be used in ways that distort competition."

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