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European officials open Amazon antitrust investigation

The European Commission said Thursday that it has opened a formal investigation into business practices by Amazon in its distribution of electronic books. The commission said in particular it will investigate clauses in the firm’s contracts with publishers that require them to tell Amazon about more favorable terms offered to its competitors and ensure Amazon is offered similar

If the clauses are found to limit competition, they could violate antitrust laws that prohibit abuses of a dominant market position and restrictive business practices, the commission said. In a statement, EU antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager said it is her duty to “make sure that Amazon’s arrangements with publishers are not harmful to consumers, by preventing other e-book distributors from innovating and competing effectively with Amazon.”

Amazon was not immediately available for comment. In a separate probe, the European Commission has accused Google of abusing its dominance in online shopping searches and is looking into whether Google uses its Android software to gain an unfair advantage over other applications and services on mobile devices.

Google denies it has broken antitrust rules and insists its products benefit consumers and encourage competition. A Microsoft antitrust case ended in 2009 with the firm paying more than $2 billion in fines imposed by European officials. Chipmaker Intel is appealing its antitrust case, which has gone on for 15 years.