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Fair trade commission to probe big IT firms like Google, Amazon next year: chief

Japan Fair Trade Commission Chairman Kazuyuki Sugimoto answers questions during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Oct. 31, 2018. (Mainichi/Toshiki Miyama)

TOKYO -- The Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) will probe information technology giants such as Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. to confirm if the "dominant" companies are involved in questionable transactions, Chairman Kazuyuki Sugimoto of the antitrust watchdog said Oct. 31 in an exclusive interview with the Mainichi Shimbun.

Sugimoto said those companies have become a "dominant presence in the digital market," and added that the probe may include mandatory inspections based on Article 40 of the Act on Prohibition of Private Monopolization and Maintenance of Fair Trade.

"We will be closely watching them to see if they are preventing innovations by Japanese companies," emphasized Sugimoto.

Such companies are referred to as "platformers" in Japan, as they provide digital infrastructure or platforms including search engines and online transactions for a variety of cyber activities by corporations and individuals. These platformers collect huge amounts of data, like purchase or search histories, which can then be utilized for better services. However, some observers fear that an accumulation of such information to a limited number of major IT firms makes them too powerful in the market and allows them to make undue demands on business partners or hinder free competition.

Sugimoto said the planned JFTC probe "will check whether or not new entries into the market are blocked because of customer data hoarding or if the dominant companies are forcing their business partners to cut prices." The commission will first interview those platformers and their business partners, and "invoke Article 40 to conduct probes if necessary," said Sugimoto.

"The digital field will continue to grow and become more and more important for the Japanese economy," the JFTC chief said, emphasizing the need to establish systems that allow access to big data accumulated by certain companies by other market players to promote corporate competition.

(Japanese original by Kenji Wada and Akane Imamura, Business News Department)

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