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Amazon Accuses EU Privacy Regulators of Punitive Intent

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Amazon vs. EU Privacy Watchdogs: Tech giant challenges €746M fine, claiming data protection “punishment.”

Amazon.com Inc. hit back at regulators who slapped it with a then-record European Union privacy fine of €746 million ($814 million), claiming their aim was punishment rather than protecting people’s data.

The ecommerce giant told a local court in Luxembourg —  where the firm has its regional hub — that watchdogs went on the attack rather than seek an amicable solution and fired off unfounded accusations that the firm trampled on customers’ privacy rights.

Amazon lawyer Thomas Berger said the Luxembourg regulator’s approach left the company “without a chance to change its practices” before issuing the penalty under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, in 2021.

The landmark privacy legislation had taken effect three years earlier, giving the EU’s previously toothless data authorities the powers to levy fines of as much as 4% of a firm’s annual sales. It also made Luxembourg’s data watchdog the lead privacy regulator for Amazon because of its base in the Grand-Duchy. Amazon’s fine was topped last year with a new record of €1.2 billion against Meta Platforms Inc. by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, the lead regulator for several other big tech firms. 

The Amazon dispute was triggered by a 2018 complaint from French privacy rights group La Quadrature du Net, which challenged Amazon for processing user data for its targeted adverts without seeking people’s consent first.

Vincent Wellens, a lawyer for the Luxembourg Data Commission, rejected claims that the regulator acted too fast, saying GDPR is clear and it was up to the firms concerned “to behave like big boys and not wait for the authority to guide what they need to do exactly.”

Amazon has drawn scrutiny over the 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. 

At the end of 2022, it settled an EU antitrust probe into how it allegedly abused rivals’ sales data to unfairly favor its own products and squeeze out other traders on its platform. 

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