EU antitrust regulator cite concerns about voice assistants' exclusivity practices

FILE PHOTO: Executive Vice-President of the European Commission for a Europe fit for the Digital Age (Competition) Margrethe Vestager gives a press conference at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium June 3, 2021. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A year-long inquiry into voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri and other internet-connected devices has led to among more than 200 companies expressing concerns of potential anti-competitive practices, EU antitrust regulators said on Wednesday.

The European Commission has opened similar inquiries in the past into sectors such as e-commerce, pharmaceuticals, financial services and energy that eventually led to cases against companies and hefty fines.

Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Alphabet’s Google Assistant are among the most popular voice assistant devices.

“When we launched this sector inquiry, we were concerned that there might be a risk of gatekeepers emerging in this sector,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

“From the first results published today, it appears that many in the sector share our concerns,” she said.

The EU antitrust watchdog said respondents cited concerns about certain exclusivity and tying practices related to voice assistants and the position of intermediaries between users and smart devices.

They also raised concerns about the extensive access of providers of voice assistants and smart devices to troves of data, and the lack of interoperability between devices, with proprietary technology acting as de facto standards.

The Commission said the findings of the inquiry would be open to a 12-week long public consultation ending Sept. 1, with a final report due in the first half of 2022.

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