© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice President of the European Commission for a Digital Europe (Competition), gives a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, June 3, 2021. Stephanie Lecocq / Pool via REUTERS
By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS, Reuters Wednesday.
The European Commission comments follow a year-long survey of voice assistants and other internet-connected devices and responses from more than 200 companies.
Similar investigations in the past in industries such as e-commerce, pharmaceuticals, financial services and energy have led to lawsuits against companies and heavy fines.
Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are the most popular voice assistants in Europe, with the global market expected to double to 8.4 billion devices, from 4.2 billion between 2020 and 2024, according to Statista.
“We have seen indications that certain practices that we are all too familiar with may lead to tips and the emergence of guards,” EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager told reporters.
“And from the preliminary results released today, it appears that our concerns are shared by many actors,” she said.
Vestager said it was too early to say whether the investigation would lead to lawsuits against companies that will be decided after a 12-week public consultation ending on September 1 and a final report expected in the first half of 2022.
The EU’s antitrust watchdog said respondents were concerned about some exclusivity and tied selling practices related to voice assistants, such as smart device producers being barred from installing a second assistant voice on a device.
A second concern was with voice assistant providers promoting their own or third-party services via default settings on devices, thus limiting competitors.
A third concern was the wealth of data available to providers of voice assistants and smart devices, while a fourth concern was the lack of interoperability between devices.
Amazon said there was intense competition in the smart home market.
“There won’t be, and shouldn’t be, a single winner. Today, Alexa is compatible with over 140,000 smart home products, and we’re making it easy for device makers to integrate Alexa. directly into their own products, ”a spokesperson said.
Amazon added that it has joined 80 companies on its voice interoperability initiative, which gives customers the ability to access multiple voice services on one device.
Google and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Vestager has proposed tough new rules known as the Digital Markets Act, which targets a number of these practices. The project needs to be discussed with EU lawmakers and EU countries before it can be implemented, possibly next year.
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