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US government to probe online platforms over antitrust concerns

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The US government has launched antitrust investigations into online platforms such as Amazon and Google in a move that could have far-reaching consequences for online retail.

The Justice Department will review the practices of “market-leading online platforms” to assess whether they are reducing competition, stifling innovation or otherwise harming consumers.

It will factor in concerns raised by consumers and businesses through a consultation. The goal of the review is to assess whether the US public has access to free markets.

While the agency did not name specific companies in the announcement, likely candidates include Amazon, Google and Facebook.

All of these platforms play an important role in online retail. Above all, Amazon is a major marketplace, a large retailer in its own right and a discovery tool for online shoppers. Google is the largest search engine and Facebook is an important advertising tool for retailers, as well as a marketplace.

Assistant attorney general Makan Delrahim of the antitrust division said: “Without the discipline of meaningful market-based competition, digital platforms may act in ways that are not responsive to consumer demands.

“The Department’s antitrust review will explore these important issues.”

Amazon is also being investigated in the EU over its relationships with third party sellers on the platform. The investigation by the European Commission focuses on Amazon’s “dual role” as a platform, in which it operates both as a retailer selling its own products and provides a marketplace for third party sellers. The concern is that Amazon may unfairly use seller data to enhance its retail offering.

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