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Austria probes Amazon over alleged unfair trade practices

Austria's competition authorities said on Thursday it was launching a probe into whether US online retail giant Amazon was abusing its dominant position to favour its own products against those of Austrian retailers selling on its market place.

Austria probes Amazon over alleged unfair trade practices
Photo: AFP

The Austrian Federal Competition Authority (BWB) said in a statement that it was investigating complaints received in December 2018 about Amazon's alleged “unfair trade practices”.

The suspicion was that Amazon “discriminates against other retailers and thereby tries to inordinately favour its own products on the Amazon market place”, BWB said.

According to the complaints, Amazon allegedly terminated sellers' accounts abruptly and for no apparent reason. 

It also allegedly forced retailers to disclose their prices and added incorrect delivery details to the sellers' accounts.

The retailers also accused Amazon of deleting them from product rankings and introducing jurisdiction clauses making it difficult for them to take legal action.

“The digital world is not a legal vacuum. Companies operating on a global scale must adhere to applicable Austrian laws and regulations,” said BWB chief Theodor Thanner.

BWB decided to launch the investigation after consulting the European Commission and Germany's federal cartel office, which had started a similar probe against Amazon last November, he said.

Internet giants such as Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook are coming under increasing scrutiny worldwide for their business practices, the way they collect and store user data, as well as their efforts to avoid taxes. 

Other countries, such as Japan and France, but also the EU Commission have all launched probes against such companies recently. 

In June 2017, the EU Commission slapped a 2.4-billion-euro fine on Google for abusing its dominant position. 

The BWB said on Thursday that its investigation could eventually lead to warnings, sanctions or even fines being imposed on Amazon, if the cartel court finds it breached EU and Austrian law. 

“The results of the examination must be awaited before taking next steps,” said BWB chief Thanner. 
 

PRIVACY

Austria privacy activists file suit against streaming sites

An Austrian privacy campaign group lodged complaints against eight online streaming services Friday, accusing them of "structural violations" of EU data regulations that came into effect last year.

Austria privacy activists file suit against streaming sites
Privacy campaigner Max Schrems. Photo: AFP

NOYB, a non-profit organisation whose name means None Of Your Business, said it had filed a complaint with Austria's Data Protection Authority against services including Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Spotify.

NOYB says the services have violated the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by not granting users access to data that companies hold on them or information about how the data is used.

Privacy campaigner Max Schrems, one of the founders of NOYB, said the issue of access to such data was one of the most common reasons people got in touch with the NGO.

On Netflix, for example, “you can figure out a lot about someone's personal behaviour and even political leanings from the data they have — what you're watching, the times of day you're watching, who you're watching it with,” 
Schrems told AFP.

NOYB tested the provisions of the GDPR by asking eight major streaming services for access to data. 

It said two failed to respond and the rest did not provide the data in an intelligible format nor gave additional background information that users are also entitled to.

“The 'front ends' of these websites look nice, welcoming and compliant but really the data is stored in the 'back ends' — we want to bring more transparency to these data 'black boxes',” Schrems said.

In theory, the EU's data regulations provide for heavy financial penalties for companies who break them. 

Schrems has previously brought cases against Facebook and other tech firms in several European countries.

In 2015 he brought down the EU's former “Safe Harbour” data sharing arrangement after he sued Facebook in Ireland over the transfer of personal information by Facebook from Europe to the United States.