Apple and Amazon face fines in Spain for anti-competitive practices

Big tech has faced a lot of antitrust heat in European countries recently.

Apple and Amazon face fines in Spain for anti-competitive practices
A general view shows an Amazon fulfillment centre in Madrid, Spain, November 24, 2015. REUTERS/Andrea Comas/File Photo

The backstory: Big tech has faced a lot of antitrust heat in European countries recently. In 2021, Italy's watchdog took on Amazon, accusing the tech giant of leveraging its dominant position in the country, giving it an unfair advantage over competitors. But Amazon wasn't the only one in trouble. Apple also found itself in the crosshairs. Both companies were fined over €200 million (US$224 million) for allegedly working together to create an anti-competitive environment for the sale of Apple and Beats products. The watchdog’s aim was to ensure that authorized Apple and Beats retailers had equal access to, free from any restrictions. Then things took a twist in January 2022 when the fines were recalculated and reduced due to a "material error."

Over in France, Google and Meta have also gotten some serious scrutiny in recent years for anti-competitive practices. They’ve faced fines over the way they handled user data and advertising. Apple was also fined in 2020 in the country for anti-competitive behavior for illegally restricting how wholesalers sell its products.

More recently: Fast forward to last October, when an Italian administrative court overturned the fines for Apple and Amazon by the antitrust authority. The court cited insufficient evidence to prove the alleged collusion, so the fines were scrapped and the whole case was dropped. Meanwhile, the Paris court of appeals stepped in and decreased Apple's 2020 record-breaking €1.1 billion (US$1.2 billion) French fine to around €371.6 million (US$417 million), saying the penalty was “disproportionate.”

The development: Now Spain's antitrust watchdog just slapped Amazon and Apple with fines totaling €194.1 million (US$218 million) for collaborating to restrict the online sale of Apple devices and competitors' products in the country. Apple faces a fine of €143.6 million (US$161 million), while Amazon must pay €50.5 million (US$57 million). Keep in mind that both companies have the option to appeal the decision within the next two months.

According to the watchdog, the companies signed anti-competitive contracts back in October 2018 that led to over 90% of retailers selling Apple products on Amazon's platform being blocked. Amazon also limited access for retailers outside of Spain and imposed advertising limitations for Apple's competitors whenever users searched for Apple products on its website. It argued this deal caused the prices of Apple devices sold online in Spain to increase.

Key comments:

"Over 90% of resellers who used Amazon's website in Spain to sell Apple products were excluded from Spain's main online market," said Spain’s regulator, the Spanish National Markets and Competition Commission (CNMC).

"We reject the suggestion made by CNMC that Amazon benefits from excluding sellers from its marketplace, as our business model hinges precisely on the success of the companies selling through Amazon," said a spokesperson for Amazon in an email statement to Reuters.

“More than half of all annual sales on Amazon in Italy come from SMBs. We have 20,000 Italian SMBs that sell on Amazon, including sellers that manage shipment themselves, and we constantly invest to support their growth,” said an Amazon spokesperson in a statement last year.

"To ensure our customers purchase genuine products, we work closely with our reseller partners and have dedicated teams of experts around the world who work with law enforcement, customs and merchants to ensure only genuine Apple products are being sold," said Apple in 2021.