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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

12 mins ago - Health

Moderna to file for FDA emergency use authorization for COVID-19 vaccine

Photo illustration by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Moderna announced that it plans to file with the FDA Monday for an emergency use authorization for its coronavirus vaccine, which the company said has an efficacy rate of 94.1%.

Why it matters: Moderna will become the second company to file for a vaccine EUA after Pfizer did the same earlier this month, potentially paving the way for the U.S. to have two COVID-19 vaccines in distribution by the end of the year. The company said its vaccine has a 100% efficacy rate against severe COVID cases.

The social media addiction bubble

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Right now, everyone from Senate leaders to the makers of Netflix's popular "Social Dilemma" is promoting the idea that Facebook is addictive.

Yes, but: Human beings have raised fears about the addictive nature of every new media technology since the 18th century brought us the novel, yet the species has always seemed to recover its balance once the initial infatuation wears off.

Young people's next big COVID test

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Young, healthy people will be at the back of the line for coronavirus vaccines, and they'll have to maintain their sense of urgency as they wait their turn — otherwise, vaccinations won't be as effective in bringing the pandemic to a close.

The big picture: "It’s great young people are anticipating the vaccine," said Jewel Mullen, associate dean for health equity at the University of Texas. But the prospect of that enthusiasm waning is "a cause for concern," she said.