Amazon is talking from both sides of its mouth. In Europe, it’s offering concessions to antitrust regulators. In the United States, it’s funding shady lobbyists in hopes of killing antitrust legislation.
Across the pond, the company partially caved in response to a years-long antitrust probe from the European Commission, and in a bid to settle the investigation offered a raft of concessions meant to level the playing field between the behemoth and the third-party sellers on its platform. Meanwhile, here in the States, Bloomberg reported that the very same company had secretly funneled close to $1 million into an advocacy group that’s spent the past few months pressuring right-leaning lawmakers against—you guessed it—antitrust action. The group, The Competitiveness Coalition, markets itself as drawing on grassroots support despite the Bezos bankroll. The company did not immediately respond to request for comment, nor did the Coalition.
If nothing else, Amazon’s giving us a pretty stark picture of how it is thinking about the many, many stateside antitrust complaints being levied against it right now, including a quickly advancing antitrust bill. Judging by its lobbyist funding, Amazon believes the bill is a threat that can be neutralized. That bill—The American Innovation and Choice Online Act—would carry the mandate mandate that Amazon not promote its own services in a way that hampers rivals, third parties, or the platform’s own sellers, from competing.
Amazon’s been caught doing exactly that a few times over the years, which is probably why the company is currently spending heaps of cash to try convincing lawmakers that the Innovation and Choice Act is some sort of foreign psyop.
Literally. The Competitiveness Coalition, the conservative advocacy group detailed in Thursday’s Bloomberg piece and run by a former Republican senator, reportedly urged lawmakers to reject the bill in a letter saying, “Passing this measure as our economy teeters on the brink of a recession and while China continues to nip at our heels, is akin to lighting a match next to a gas leak.”
Like US authorities, the European Commission has also done some legwork on this issue, and opened a formal probe into Amazon’s use of its merchant data back in 2019. These turned into formal charges about a year later, with the Commission accusing Amazon of some familiar misdeeds: the platform, the Commission said, was abusing its role as both a marketplace owner and a retailer vying for a chunk of that same market. And over the course of this years-long probe, the Commission claims to have found two specific examples: the so-called “Buy Box” that shoppers see on every Amazon product page, which allegedly “unduly favour[s] Amazon’s own retail business.” The second product was Prime, which the Commission found inadvertently skewed towards sellers using Amazon’s in-house logistics services.
Amazon didn’t respond to these claims by doing the same sort of deflection dance we’ve seen from the company here in the States—or at least, not as much. A spokesperson told TechCrunch that in spite of the company’s “serious concerns” about being unfairly targeted by EU authorities, it’s “engaged constructively with the Commission to address their concerns and preserve our ability to serve European customers” anyway. The potential concessions indicate Amazon believes the EU’s investigation has teeth—sharp ones that could take a bite out of its business.
To address those concerns, Amazon said it could make a few compromises: the company would commit to, as a baseline, “refrain from using non-public data relating to, or derived from, the activities of independent sellers on its marketplace, for its retail business that competes with those sellers.” As for the Buy Box, Amazon committed to “apply equal treatment to all sellers” in its systems that decide which seller gets featured at any given time. Amazon also noted that it will add a second one of these boxes for certain products, which means sellers would be given double the chances to appear in front of a window-shopping Amazon user.
To smooth over the Prime concerns, Amazon promised to let its third-party sellers offer speedy Prime delivery times, regardless of whether or not those sellers are also using Amazon’s logistics to get their products delivered.
It would be a small victory, to be sure. But when you’re coming from a country where this company is the textbook definition of weasley, even something this small feels worth celebrating.