Sept. 19 (UPI) -- EU antitrust officials started a preliminary investigation into Amazon's treatment of merchants that sell products on the website, the European Union said Wednesday.
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said regulators are trying to determine whether Amazon uses data from those merchants to gain a competitive advantage.
"These are very early days and we haven't formally opened a case. We are trying to make sure that we get the full picture," she said during a news conference.
Vestager said the EU sent questionnaires to the merchants as part of its inquiry.
The news comes on the same day as a digital marketing analytical company said Amazon's U.S. digital advertising business is poised to nearly triple its ad revenue to $4.6 billion in 2018.
Its growth, from $1.8 billion a year ago, would put Amazon in third place in digital advertising, vaulting it past Oath and Microsoft and behind only Google and Facebook, eMarketer said in a report. Amazon's platform will account for 4.1 percent of all spending on digital advertisements this year, with increases of at least 50 percent per year expected through 2020, it said.
The expected increase is partially due to more customers using Amazon as their starting place for online product searches, the Seattle Times reported on Wednesday. Some advertising buyers have also developed a perception that Amazon, owners of a massive data collection on what users buy, can better determine potential customers.
Amazon has also simplified its ad-buying procedures, eMarketer said. Buyers have suggested that purchasing advertising through Amazon has been confusing and difficult. The company reorganized its ad buying procedures, with its "Amazon Advertising" section expected to be fully operational by the end of 2018. For media buyers, cost-per-click ads will be better separated from display ads, for example.
At the moment, though, Amazon remains far behind Google's 37.1 percent of the market share and Facebook's 20.6 percent. Those two currently account for more than half the digital advertising business in the United States. By 2020, Amazon's market share is expected to account for seven percent of all U.S. digital advertising.
Google is expected to bring in $41 billion in ad revenue in 2018, followed by Facebook at $22.8 billion. Amazon's $4.6 billion will put it ahead of Microsoft at $4.5 billion, and Oath, the Verizon-owned group that includes early-Internet platforms AOL and Yahoo, at $3.6 billion.