EU Launches Amazon Anti-Trust Probe

Now that the EU's anti-trust regulator is finished fining the bejeezus out of Alphabet, the European Commission is turning its attention to another American tech giant: Amazon.

The e-commerce giant is facing a formal EU anti-trust probe over its treatment of third-party merchants on its platform, a premise that doesn't sound all that different from the EU's investigation into Google's AdSense advertising business (the EU hit Google with three multi-billion anti-trust fines over the past few years). In addition to the Amazon probe, the EU is also juggling investigations into Facebook, Apple and Twitter over violations of the EU's new GDPR privacy laws.

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According to WSJ, Amazon is suspected of "abusing its dual role as both the provider of a marketplace where independent sellers can offer products and a retailer of products in its own right." In particular, the probe will explore whether "Amazon is using sensitive data from independent merchants to compete against them."

The investigation could lead to formal charges, fines and orders to change business practices - but they could also be dropped, WSJ says.

Though, if the past is any guide, the latter option is unlikely. Also, the timing of this announcement is interesting, coming one day after Congressional hearings where lawmakers from both parties attacked Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google for their market dominance. That hearing comes just weeks after the DOJ and FTC divvied up oversight of the big tech companies in preparation for what's expected to be a major anti-trust push.

It used to be that the Europeans were leading the anti-trust charge against the tech giants because, well, they're all American companies, and there would be no political risks to fining American companies. Now, breaking up Amazon and the other tech giants might be the only issue that Elizabeth Warren and President Trump agree on. Facebook's ill-timed push into finance with its Calibra foundation has only further incensed lawmakers, as evidenced by yesterday's hearing.

On a related note, Germany’s antitrust regulator on Wednesday said Amazon has agreed to change its terms of service on its marketplace platform for third-party sellers after an unrelated, eight-month probe.

What only months ago looked like a remote possibility - the breakup of the big four tech giants - is looking increasingly probable. And though the FAANG stocks aren't powering the rally like they once did, it's still worth considering what kind of impact this could have on the bull market if the floor suddenly falls out from under tech.