EU antitrust regulators struggling to tackle Big Tech dominance

EU antitrust regulators should ramp up efforts to reign in Google and other tech giants, a new report says. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Court says many probes ‘too little too late’, as Commission gets ready to investigate Apple, Facebook and Google.

European Union antitrust regulators must drastically change their approach if they are to tackle the growing dominance of tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, according to a report from the European Court of Auditors (ECA). The report comes days after the European Commission announced a new investigation into Amazon’s e-commerce activities. 

The ECA said many lengthy antitrust investigations carried out by the EU are “too little, too late” as Big Tech companies have often effectively removed competition from the marketplace by the time the probe gets the go-ahead.

They also questioned the effectiveness of fines issued to those found to have breached EU competition law.

The report urged the European Commission to scale up efforts to tackle Big Tech, warning of “complex new enforcement challenges in digital markets” and of the increasing volumes of data it has to wade through. However, they acknowledged the “limitations” facing the Commission as it tries to monitor all elements of what is perceived to be anti-competitive behaviour by tech giants.

“[The Commission] now needs to scale up market oversight to be fit for a more global and digital world,” said Ale Brenninkmeijer, one of the report’s authors. “It needs to get better at proactively detecting infringements and select its investigations more judiciously. Together with stronger co-operation from NCAs [non-compete agreements], this will result in better competition enforcement in the EU internal market, protecting businesses and consumers.” 

The report comes days after Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, who oversees competition in the EU, accused Amazon of “distorting competition” on their platforms in France and Germany.

A Statement of Objections from the European Commission sent to Amazon stemmed from the company’s reliance on what the Commission called “non-public business data of independent sellers.”

The Commission’s investigation into Amazon, which began in July 2019,  found “large quantities” of sales data from smaller third-party sellers are available and can be used by employees from Amazon’s own retail business to create product offers. The Commission said this approach would negatively impact independent sellers on the platform in France and Germany, Amazon’s two largest EU markets.

Ms Vestager  said: “We must ensure that dual role platforms with market power, such as Amazon, do not distort competition.  Data on the activity of third-party sellers should not be used to the benefit of Amazon when it acts as a competitor to these sellers.” 

Ms Vestager is also leading investigations into anti-trust breaches from Apple, Facebook and Google.

Amazon has strongly disputed the Commission’s accusations, saying it accounts for less than 1 per cent of global retail trade. In a statement it said: “There are more than 150,000 European retailers who sell in our stores. They generate tens of billions of euros in sales every year and have created hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

The second formal inquiry into the company’s e-commerce activities, which the Commission launched on November 10, will focus on potential preferential treatment of Amazon’s own product offerings on the platform. The investigation will also be extended to treatment of offerings from third-party sellers that opt for delivery services provided by Amazon.

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