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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The EU said Wednesday it would investigate how Amazon creates products, like AmazonBasics batteries or Solimo brand razors, that compete with offerings from outside merchants on its site.

Why it matters: It's a major new wave of scrutiny for the retail giant at a time when it is also under fire in the U.S.

Driving the news: Amazon's critics have expressed concern that the company can use the data it gathers on merchants using its platform to develop its own house-brand products. Then, critics say, Amazon, can give those products prime placement on the site.

  • EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement Wednesday that she had "decided to take a very close look at Amazon's business practices and its dual role as marketplace and retailer, to assess its compliance with EU competition rules."
  • The regulator will look at how Amazon's trove of data on its third-party merchants affects competition.
  • The investigation will include an inquiry into how merchants end up in the "Buy Box," the highlighted area on an Amazon product page that can drive customers to the seller that controls it.

Flashback: Vestager first said she was looking at the issue last year.

By the numbers: Amazon has become a prominent player in its own marketplace, according to data from TJI Research.

  • The research firm counts 140 Amazon private labels around the world and an additional 519 brands which have struck deals to be sold exclusively on the site.
  • Amazon's private label products range from the ubiquitous AmazonBasics batteries to bluejeans and coffee.

Regulators and policymakers have started to target this segment of Amazon's business in recent months out of concern it will put the squeeze on third-party sellers that compete with its own brands.

  • For example, critics say Amazon boosts its own offerings in search — and on its Alexa voice assistant products — putting it at an advantage compared to the merchants that use its platform.
  • In response, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) has proposed banning Amazon and other large companies from running a platform and simultaneously participating on it.
  • The company has defended itself by publicly touting its work to help third-party merchants and quietly ending the use of restrictive legal agreements with the sellers seen as anticompetitive.

What they're saying: An Amazon spokesperson pledged that it would "cooperate fully with the European Commission."

The big picture: Regulatory authorities increasingly view Amazon and other tech giants with suspicion, alarmed by their collection of consumer data, market power and ability to influence society.

  • On Tuesday alone, three different Congressional committees held hearings with executives from major tech companies on issues ranging from competition to content moderation to Facebook's plan to launch a digital currency.

Go deeper

Cuomo asks New York AG and chief judge to choose "independent" investigator into sexual harassment claims

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at a press conference on Feb. 24. Photo: Seth Wenig/pool/AFP via Getty Images

A special counselor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo released a statement on Sunday asking the state's attorney general and chief judge to jointly pick an "independent and qualified lawyer in private practice without political affiliation" to investigate claims of sexual harassment against the governor.

The state of play: The statement is an about-face from Cuomo, who had previously selected a former judge close to a top aide to lead the investigation, the New York Times reported, a move that was widely criticized.

Republican Sen. Sasse slams Nebraska GOP for "weird worship" of Trump after state party rebuke

Sen. Ben Sasse, (R-Neb.) Photo: Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images

The Nebraska Republican Party on Saturday formally "rebuked" Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) for his vote to impeach former President Trump earlier this year, though it stopped short of a formal censure, CNN reports.

Why it matters: Sasse is the latest among a slate of Republicans who have faced some sort of punishment from their state party apparatus after voting to impeach the former president. The senator responded statement Saturday, per the Omaha World-Herald, saying "most Nebraskans don't think politics should be about the weird worship of one dude."

Cuomo barraged by fellow Dems after second harassment accusation

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo faced a barrage of criticism from fellow Democrats after The New York Times reported that the second former aide in four days had accused him of sexual harassment.

Why it matters: Cuomo had faced a revolt from legislators for his handling of nursing-home deaths from COVID. Now, the scandal is acutely personal, with obviously grave political risk.