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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

Most teachers are white. Most students aren't.

Expand chart
Data: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics; Chart: Baidi Wang/Axios

The nation's 6.6 million teacher workforce has grown more racially and ethnically diverse over the past three decades — but not nearly fast enough to keep pace with a student population that's nearing majority-minority in public schools, two new reports show.

Why it matters: The disparities are especially acute between Hispanic students and teachers, and in schools with 90% or higher non-white student populations.

Updated 12 hours ago - World

UK government: Kremlin has plan "to install pro-Russian leadership" in Ukraine

British Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss. Photo: Gints Ivuskans / AFP via Getty Images

The United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary on Saturday night said the government has "information that indicates the Russian Government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine."

Driving the news: U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne called the intelligence "deeply concerning" in a statement to Axios. The Biden administration has said Russia is actively manufacturing a pretext for invasion and warned that Putin could use joint military exercises in Belarus as cover to invade from the north.

Updated 13 hours ago - Science

This powerful new accelerator looks for keys to the center of atoms

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Nuclear physicists trying to piece together how atoms are built are about to get a powerful new tool.

Why it matters: When the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams begins experiments later this spring, physicists from around the world will use the particle accelerator to better understand the inner workings of atoms that make up all the matter that can be seen in the universe.