Europe launches investigation into Google and Amazon

The European Commission said today that it will conduct a review web companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon to decide whether it should regulate them more tightly.

The inquiry will focus on the transparency of search results and pricing policies, how online platforms use the data they acquire, their relationships with other businesses and how they promote their own services to the disadvantage of competitors, reported the Reuters news agency.

The review, which had been expected, is part of a Digital Single Market Strategy unveiled by Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip.

A wide-ranging policy paper, it lays out a variety of proposals to boost economic growth in Europe by removing national barriers within the EU for online services.

The Commission will seek to coordinate the sale of airwaves, spur investment in high-speed broadband and address competition from services such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Skype

Ansip’s strategy includes a set of initiatives focussing on reforming copyright and telecoms rules, bringing down barriers to cross-border parcel deliveries and ensuring European online businesses can compete with their bigger US counterparts.

For example, UK citizens may be able to continue using catch-up services including the BBC’s iPlayer and Sky’s Now TV as they travel across the European Union.

The BBC confirmed it would look into the possibility of easing its iPlayer restrictions.

“We note the Commission’s interest in making services more portable to UK users while temporarily travelling in Europe, and will begin work to look at the technical and legislative implications,” said a spokesman.

The Commission also confirmed a competition inquiry into e-commerce, which is separate from the analysis of online platforms.

Unlike the antitrust investigation launched last month into Google, the e-commerce competition inquiry does not carry an immediate threat of penalties for firms involved, though such legal proceedings could be launched as a result.

The review of online platforms is not intended to lead to penalties for firms involved, but could see new regulation of the sector – something Germany and France have pushed for.

“Europe has strengths to build on, but also homework to do, in particular to make sure its industries adapt, and its citizens make full use of the potential of new digital services and goods,” said Guenther Oettinger, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society.

The Commission aims to deliver on its promises by the end of next year, setting itself up for a battle with several industry groups, from telecom operators to film makers.

Regulation of the telecom sector will also be overhauled next year, it said.

The Commission will seek to coordinate the sale of airwaves, spur investment in high-speed broadband and address competition from services such as Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Skype.

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