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EU Competition Commissioner Unveils Investigation into Amazon, Continuing Probe into the Tech Giants

On Thursday, the European Commissioner for Competition announced a formal investigation into whether Amazon, the largest distributor of e-books in Europe, has abused its dominance in the market for e-books.  The investigation deals with specific clauses in Amazon’s contracts with publishers, which require the publishers to inform Amazon of more favorable or alternative terms offered to competitors and to offer similar terms to Amazon.  The investigation focuses on the legality of these clauses under EU competition law.

In a statement, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager explained that the investigation had been undertaken to ensure that Amazon’s contractual agreements with publishers did not harm competition by “preventing other e-book distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon.”

Since taking the position in November last year, Commissioner Vestager has made antitrust enforcement in the tech sector a priority.  In remarks to the European Parliament shortly before she assumed the role, Vestager stressed the need for robust antitrust enforcement in the digital economy and noted that she would work to ensure that EU competition policy stayed abreast of developments in “big data.”

In just eight months as Competition Commissioner, Vestager has taken quick action to pursue these initiatives.  The investigation into Amazon follows on the heels of several other antitrust inquiries into the competitive practices of Google and other large corporations in Europe.  As we reported in April, the Commission has opened a formal investigation into Google’s practice of pre-installing apps and services on its Android smartphones.  The same month the Commission brought formal charges against Google for abusing its dominance in web searches.   Last week, Vestager also indicated that the Commission is actively investigating Google’s mapping, travel, flight, third-party data, and advertising businesses.