EU tool lets whistleblowers report anti-competitive companies

The next big antitrust investigation could be tipped anonymously by a disgruntled employee.

Getty Images

In a bid to surface more illegal tax deals and clamp down on shady practices like price fixing, the European Commision has launched a new tool to let whistleblowers anonymously come forward. The regulator has set up a tips hotline and a public email address (if the person doesn't mind being named) but now also hosts an encrypted web form that can "alert the Commission about secret cartels and other antitrust violations" while protecting a person's identity.

"If people are concerned by business practices that they think are wrong, they can help put things right. Inside knowledge can be a powerful tool to help the Commission uncover cartels and other anti-competitive practices," said Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in a statement. "With our new tool it is possible to provide information, while maintaining anonymity. Information can contribute to the success of our investigations quickly and more efficiently to the benefit of consumers and the EU's economy as a whole."

The system has been designed to enable two-way communications so Commission representatives can ask for additional information or to clarify statements. The website uses a passcode that can be used to access replies, which typically come within 15 working days, but won't pass on any metadata like an IP address.

Before today, the Commission relied heavily on companies giving themselves up. Its "leniency programme" incentivises wrongdoers to disclose their sins in exchange for a reduced fine. Instead, the new tool may incentivize employees to come forward when they become aware of illegal arrangements put in place by the company they work for.

Over the past couple of years, major technology companies including Apple, Amazon and Google have been on the receiving end of a Commission antitrust probes. When such cases become public, employees could share additional information, making it easier for the regulator to secure a prosecution.