- The executive branch of the European Union laid out its first set of antitrust charges against Amazon on Tuesday in an investigation related to the company’s dual role as both a retailer and a merchant on its website.
- Specifically, the EU is accusing Amazon of abusing that role. It claims that Amazon utilizes seller data from other vendors in order to determine which products it can replicate at cheaper prices.
- The EU also launched a separate investigation into Amazon’s “buy boxes,” accusing the tech giant of preferentially listing its own products, as well as products from sellers that pay to use Amazon’s logistics services.
- The EU joins a growing list of governments addressing antitrust concerns among big tech companies. On Monday, India launched an investigation into whether Google unfairly promoted its payment app on Google Play, the Android app store.
EU Files Antitrust Charges Against Amazon
In a preliminary set of charges filed on Tuesday, the European Union accused tech giant Amazon of violating antitrust laws.
In those charges, the European Commission — the EU’s executive branch — accused Amazon of abusing its dual role as both a retailer and a merchant. By being both a retailer and merchant, Amazon hosts thousands of vendors on its website, allowing them a place to sell their products, while at the same time selling its own products there.
The background related to these charges is a frequent target of controversy surrounding Amazon.
Many small businesses will sell their products on Amazon largely because it’s become such a dominant force in online retail. For example, a shopper is much more likely to find a business on Amazon than they are to find and then also go to that business’s website.
However, Amazon has long been accused of replicating products that sell well on the website, oftentimes then selling those similar products for much cheaper. Moves like that can severely damage small businesses that don’t have the same level of resources Amazon does. It also means smaller companies are left in a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” situation, having to decide between relying on the exposure that Amazon brings to grow a business and potentially having those ideas ripped off by Amazon.
That’s where the European Commission’s come in. According to the Commission — which reviewed data from more than 80 million transactions and 100 million products on Amazon in France and Germany, the EU’s two largest markets — the company is routinely integrating non-public seller data from other vendors into its own retail algorithms.
Essentially, if true, that would mean Amazon is looking at metrics such as the number of a certain product sold by independent vendors on Amazon, as well as how much money those vendors have made from each product. That information, which isn’t able to be accessed by other vendors on Amazon, would then allow Amazon to determine which new products it should roll out and how much it should charge for them.
“We do not take issue with the success of Amazon or its size,” European Commission top antitrust official Margrethe Vestager said. “Our concern is the very specific business conduct that appears to distort competition.”
“Data on the activity of third party sellers should not be used to the benefit of Amazon when it act[s] as a competitor to these sellers,” she added.
Second Investigation: Amazon Distorts “Buy Boxes”
Alongside those charges, the Commission has also announced that it’s started a separate investigation into Amazon’s policies around its “buy box.”
That’s the sidebar on Amazon that allows customers to add items to their cart with one click; however, the caveat is that the buy box only lists a single vendor. To view other, less-prominently displayed vendors, customers would need scroll down.
As Vestager explains it, “The Buy Box is essential. It prominently shows you offers for one single seller of a chosen product with the possibility for the consumer to purchase it directly. So winning the Buy Box is crucial for the marketplace sellers as it seems that more than 80% of all transactions on Amazon are channelled through it.”
Regarding this investigation, the Commission is specifically looking into whether Amazon uses the buy box to preferentially list its own products and/or products from sellers that pay to use its logistics services.
“Our concern is that Amazon may artificially push retails to use its own related services,” which “may potentially lock them deeper into Amazon’s own ecosystem,” Vestager said.
Amazon Rebukes EU Findings
Naturally, Amazon has denied the Commission’s charges.
“No company cares more about small businesses or has done more to support them over the past two decades than Amazon,” a spokesperson said.
As for where things go from here, it’s unclear, but this is likely going to be a very slow process. For one, these charges are just preliminary. The Commission actually needs to finish its investigation first. That means it could take months — or more likely, years — before a fine or other penalties are announced.
It’s also possible these charges could be dropped if the Commission reaches a settlement with Amazon; however, if the Commission does agree that Amazon violated EU competition law, Amazon could face fines up to 10% of its annual worldwide turnover, which would amount to a maximum of $37 billion.
Next month, the Commission is expected to unveil a new package of laws in what could be one of the sweeping set of regulations on the tech industry ever. Notably, that could include rules restricting self-preferential treatment and requiring massive companies like Amazon to share data with smaller rivals.
But it’s not just Europe. On Monday, India opened an antitrust case against Google over allegations that it unfairly promotes Google Pay on Google Play, the app store for Android phones.
Just last month in the U.S., Congress also took aim at big tech companies. In fact, a House Judiciary subcommittee accused Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google of engaging in anti-competitive monopoly tactics.
“By controlling access to markets, these giants can pick winners and losers throughout our economy. They not only wield tremendous power, but they also abuse it by charging exorbitant fees, imposing oppressive contract terms, and extracting valuable data from the people and businesses that rely on them,” the report said, hitting a very similar note to that of the European Commission.
See what others are saying: (CNN Business) (The New York Times) (Tech Crunch)
Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos
The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.
Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws.
For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform.
The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.
It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end.
The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions.
First Twitch Hack
Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.
That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already.
Twitch Blames Server Configuration Error for Hack, Says There’s No Indication That Login Info Leaked
The platform also said full credit card numbers were not reaped by hackers, as that data is stored externally.
Login and Credit Card Info Secure
Twitch released a security update late Wednesday claiming it had seen “no indication” that users’ login credentials were stolen by hackers who leaked the entire platform’s source code earlier in the day.
“Full credit card numbers are not stored by Twitch, so full credit card numbers were not exposed,” the company added in its announcement.
The leaked data, uploaded to 4chan, includes code related to the platform’s security tools, as well as exact totals of how much it has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
Early Thursday, Twitch also announced that it has now reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Streamers looking for their new keys can visit a dashboard set up by the platform, though users may need to manually update their software with the new key before being able to stream again depending on what kind of software they use.
As far as what led to the hackers being able to steal the data, Twitch blamed an error in a “server configuration change that was subsequently accessed by a malicious third party,” confirming that the leak was not the work of a current employee who used internal tools.
Will Users Go to Other Streaming Platforms?
While no major creators have said they are leaving Twitch for a different streaming platform because of the hack, many small users have either announced their intention to leave Twitch or have said they are considering such a move.
It’s unclear if the leak, coupled with other ongoing Twitch controversies, will ultimately lead to a significant user exodus, but there’s little doubt that other platforms are ready and willing to leverage this hack in the hopes of attracting new users.
At least one big-name streamer has already done as much, even if largely only presenting the idea as a playful jab rather than with serious intention.
“Pretty crazy day today,” YouTube’s Valkyrae said on a stream Wednesday while referencing a tweet she wrote earlier the day.
“YouTube is looking to sign more streamers,” that tweet reads.
“I mean, they are! … No shade to Twitch… Ah! Well…” Valkyrae said on stream before interrupting herself to note that she was not being paid by YouTube to make her comments.
The Entirety of Twitch Has Been Leaked Online, Including How Much Top Creators Earn
The data dump, which could be useful for some of Twitch’s biggest competitors, could signify one of the most encompassing platform leaks ever.
Massive Collection of Data Leaked
Twitch’s full source code was uploaded to 4chan Wednesday morning after it was obtained by hackers.
Among the 125 GB of stolen data is information revealing that Amazon, which owns Twitch, has at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library. That library, codenamed Vapor, would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
With Amazon being the all-encompassing giant that it is, it’s not too surprising that it would try to develop a Steam rival, but it’s eyecatching news nonetheless considering how much the release of Vapor could shake up the market.
The leaked data also showcased exactly how much Twitch has paid its creators, including the platform’s top accounts, such as the group CriticalRole, as well as steamers xQcOW, Tfue, Ludwig, Moistcr1tikal, Shroud, HasanAbi, Sykkuno, Pokimane, Ninja, and Amouranth.
These figures only represent payouts directly from Twitch. Each creator mentioned has made additional money through donations, sponsorships, and other off-platform ventures. Sill, the information could be massively useful for competitors like YouTube Gaming, which is shelling out big bucks to ink deals with creators.
Data related to Twitch’s internal security tools, as well as code related to software development kits and its use of Amazon Web Services, was also released with the hack. In fact, so much data was made public that it could constitute one of the most encompassing platform dumps ever.
Streamer CDawgVA, who has just under 500,000 subscribers on Twitch, tweeted about the severity of the data breach on Wednesday.
“I feel like calling what Twitch just experienced as “leak” is similar to me shitting myself in public and trying to call it a minor inconvenience,” he wrote. “It really doesn’t do the situation justice.”
Despite that, many of the platform’s top streamers have been quite casual about the situation.
“Hey, @twitch EXPLAIN?”xQc tweeted. Amouranth replied with a laughing emoji and the text, “This is our version of the Pandora papers.”
Meanwhile, Pokimane tweeted, “at least people can’t over-exaggerate me ‘making millions a month off my viewers’ anymore.”
Others, such as Moistcr1tikal and HasanAbi argued that their Twitch earning are already public information given that they can be easily determined with simple calculations.
Could More Data Come Out?
This may not be the end of the leak, which was labeled as “part one.” If true, there’s no reason to think that the leakers wouldn’t publish a part two.
For example, they don’t seem to be too fond of Twitch and said they hope this data dump “foster[s] more disruption and competition in the online video streaming space.”
They added that the platform is a “disgusting toxic cesspool” and included the hashtag #DoBetterTwitch, which has been used in recent weeks to drive boycotts against the platform as smaller creators protest the ease at which trolls can use bots to spam their chats with racist, sexist, and homophobic messages.
Still, this leak does appear to lack one notable set of data: password and address information of Twitch users.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the leakers don’t have it. It could just mean they are only currently interested in sharing Twitch’s big secrets.
Regardless, Twitch users and creators are being strongly urged to change their passwords as soon as possible and enable two-factor authentication.