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The European Commission mustn’t let Amazon fool it again

  • Post category:Big Tech

We just sent a submission to the European Commission (EC) on Amazon, which we led and co-wrote with the Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO,) co-ordinated with a group of civil society organisations. Our submission has garnered widespread media coverage.

The background is that Amazon recently proposed a set of semi-voluntary commitments to play nice – amid two big EC investigations into its crushing market power.

The first investigation, from 2019, is looking into how the e-commerce giant uses data it harvests from users of its platform in ways that tilt the playing field unfairly in Amazon’s favour – through, to use the EC’s language, “anti-competitive behaviour.”

The second investigation, from 2020, is probing how Amazon might wield access to its “Buy Box” and to Amazon Prime customers, as anti-competitive weapons.

Amazon’ commitments seem, at the very first skim-read, to be reasonable promises to behave better. Pull back the curtain even a little, however, and it becomes clear that these commitments are nearly worthless.

As our submission says, the list of commitments is full of holes, and vague. Not only that, but the whole idea of commitments by Amazon is wholly inappropriate anyway, given that the incoming Digital Markets Act is supposed to make Amazon do most of this stuff anyway — only with stronger measures, stronger enforcement and more accountability.

So the Commission should reject these commitments, outright, and pursue its investigations vigorously. As we put it:

“We believe these are an attempt by Amazon to forestall and delay effective measures against its abusive activities and its dominant position i.e. to set the agenda for the Commission.”

We go further than this: Amazon’s business model is built on conflicts of interest that allows it to leverage power to tilt the playing field in its direction. Commitments to make it improve its behaviour can never be enough: the only way forward that will work is to eliminate those conflicts via “structural remedies” such as separating its marketplace from its retail and its logistics operations. Which means breaking Amazon up.

Our submission, with its list of co-signatories, is here.

We have great and often in-depth coverage coverage so far: for example, in Germany’s  Tagesspiegel, Techcrunch, Politico, Financial Post, MSN, Euro News, Globe & Mail, Competition Policy International, and several others (See SOMO’s article here.)

Amazon’s response to our submission, outlined in TechCrunch, has been a version of the scoundrels’ favourite “we do a lot of work for charity,” and includes this gem:

“No company cares more about small businesses or has done more to support them over the past two decades than Amazon.”

If you hit someone over the head with a cudgel, but subsequently provide antiseptic and plasters, then on a narrow definition you could be described as ‘supporting’ them, we suppose.