An Amazon delivery driver takes an order from a delivery van in Westcliff-on-Sea, the UK, November 26 2020. Picture: CHRIS RATCLIFFE/BLOOMBERG
An Amazon delivery driver takes an order from a delivery van in Westcliff-on-Sea, the UK, November 26 2020. Picture: CHRIS RATCLIFFE/BLOOMBERG

Luxembourg — Amazon faces a record EU privacy fine as high as €350m as a probe by its main data protection watchdog in the bloc draws to a close.

Luxembourg’s data protection commission is planning to slap the online retailer with the penalty after a 2018 complaint by a French privacy rights group, according to three people familiar with the probe, who cannot be identified because the decision is not final.

La Quadrature du Net, which said it was acting on behalf of more than 10,000 customers, had called on regulators to crack down on “behavioural analysis and targeted advertising” by Amazon and levy a fine that was as “high as possible” due to the “massive, lasting and manifestly deliberate nature” of the alleged violations without the consent of its users.

EU data protection regulators’ powers have increased since the bloc’s general data protection regulation, or GDPR, took effect in May 2018. It allows watchdogs for the first time to levy fines of as much as 4% of a company’s annual global sales. The biggest fine to date was a €50m penalty for Google issued by France’s watchdog CNIL.

Amazon and the Luxembourg data protection watchdog declined to comment on the fine, which was first reported by Dow Jones. Local laws bind the Luxembourg authority to professional secrecy and prevent it from commenting on individual cases, or confirm receipt of a complaint.

“It’s good to see that after three years of silence, something is happening,” said Bastien Le Querrec, a member of La Quadrature du Net’s litigation team, adding the group was not aware of the decision.

Amazon has drawn scrutiny in recent years for the vast trove of data it has amassed on a range of customers and partners, including independent merchants who sell on its retail marketplace, users of its Alexa digital assistant, and shoppers whose browsing and purchase history inform what Amazon shows them on its website.

The company says it collects and analyses data to improve the customer experience, and sets guidelines governing what employees can do with internal data. Some legislators and regulators have raised concerns that the company has used what it knows to give itself an unfair advantage in the marketplace.

The privacy probe also adds to intense antitrust scrutiny of Amazon’s business in Europe. Amazon is being probed by the EU over its use of data from sellers on its platform and whether it unfairly favours its own products. Germany has multiple probes into Amazon’s sales. The UK is also examining similar issues, the Financial Times reported on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the EU sees potential antitrust problems with voice assistants and the data that allows Amazon and others to collect on user behaviour, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Bloomberg

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