EU launches antitrust probe into Alexa, Siri and other consumer IoT tech

17 Jul 2020252 Views

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Fearing the rise of consumer IoT ‘gatekeepers’, the EU is launching an antitrust investigation into the sector that includes Siri and Alexa.

Some of the biggest names in tech will be scrutinised in an investigation launched by the European Commission (EC) into how the consumer internet of things (IoT) sector operates. In a statement, the EC said the inquiry will focus on consumer-related products and services that are connected to a network and can be controlled at a distance, such as through voice assistants and smart home devices.

This means Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant will be among the technologies that the EU body will investigate to see whether they are creating an ecosystem where a small number of “gatekeepers” control significant amounts of user data.

“Access to large amounts of user data appears to be the key for success in this sector, so we have to make sure that market players are not using their control over such data to distort competition, or otherwise close off these markets for competitors,” said the EC’s executive vice-president, Margrethe Vestager.

“This sector inquiry will help us better understand the nature and likely effects of the possible competition problems in this sector.”

‘Push markets beyond the tipping point’

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The sector inquiry will cover products such as wearable devices and connected consumer devices used in the smart home context, such as fridges, washing machines, smart TVs, smart speakers and lighting systems.

It also aims to collect information about the services available via smart devices, such as music and video streaming services and about the voice assistants used to access them. The EC said that in the coming weeks it will send requests for information to a range of players active in the IoT space, including device manufacturers, software developers and service providers.

A preliminary report on the findings is expected to be published in the spring of 2021, with a final report published in the summer of 2022.

Speaking with reporters, Vestager mentioned Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa by name and warned that once big companies have established a dominant position, “they can very, very quickly push markets beyond the tipping point where competition turns into monopoly”.

“If we don’t act in good time, there is a serious risk that this will happen again with IoT,” she said.

Colm Gorey is a senior journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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