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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

14 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

15 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."

Updated 15 hours ago - World

In reversal, Pentagon now says drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians

Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul on Aug. 30. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A U.S. drone strike launched on Aug. 29 killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, including seven children, rather than the Islamic State extremists the Biden administration claimed it targeted, the Pentagon said Friday.

Why it matters: U.S. Central Command said at the time that officials "know" the drone strike "disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat" to Kabul's airport, and that they were "confident we successfully hit the target."