The European Union’s antitrust watchdog is investigating whether Apple, Google, Amazon, or other companies are building monopolies with their digital assistants and smart home products. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager announced a probe into the Internet of Things sector, aimed at making sure users aren’t locked into a single ecosystem. “When big companies abuse their power, they can very quickly push markets beyond the tipping point, where competition turns to monopoly,” said Vestager in a statement.
Vestager raised concerns about products like Amazon’s Alexa assistant, which ties together the company’s vast retail, hardware, and data collection operations. “Voice assistants and smart devices can collect a vast amount of data about our habits. And there’s a risk that big companies could misuse the data collected through such devices,” she said. While the biggest targets appear to be Silicon Valley tech companies, Vestager also mentioned Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta voice assistant.
Powerful companies can favor preferred services and limit interoperability, making it more difficult to buy a competitor’s product. “Right now, the appliances in our homes do not need to be connected to each other. We feel free to buy the best smart speaker we can find on the market, without worrying about whether it will work with our smart lighting system. And we want to keep it that way.” In the United States, audio company Sonos sued Google after alleged disputes over building products that integrated both Google and Amazon voice assistants.
The EU has conducted several previous tech antitrust investigations, including investigations into Google’s acquisition of wearables company Fitbit and Amazon’s use of third-party seller data.
This probe is apparently in its early stages. The European Commission is sending 400 questionnaires to smart home, wearable tech, and voice assistant businesses gathering details about data collection and interoperability. It plans to produce a preliminary report by the spring of 2021, with the possibility of enforcement action after that.