Now the EU is Going After Voice Assistants, Smart Devices

Posted on July 16, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Smart Home with 21 Comments

The European Commission opened an investigation today into how Big Tech is using voice assistants and other consumer products and services linked to the Internet of Things in anticompetitive ways.

“Voice assistants like Apple’s Siri, Google Assistant, [and] Amazon’s Alexa … allow us to control our smart devices without us having to look at a screen, … but we’ll only see the full benefits—low prices, wide choice, innovative products[,] and services—if the markets for these devices stay open and competitive,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a prepared statement. “One of the key issues here is data. 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, to cement their position in the market against the challenges of competition. They might even use their knowledge of how we access other services to enter the market for those services and take it over.”

The investigation isn’t limited to voice assistants: The EC is looking at any consumer-related products and services that are connected to a network and can be controlled at a distance. This includes mobile devices, smart home appliances, smart TVs, smart speakers, smart lighting systems, and wearable devices too.

And while it’s easy to view this investigation as yet another attempt by the EU to rein in Big Tech, which mostly originates in the U.S., Vestager singled out Deutsche Telekom’s Magenta voice assistant as well.

“With a combination of competition enforcement and targeted regulation, we can help to build a better market for the exciting new products and services that the Internet of Things will make possible,” she added. “We can make sure that companies of all sizes have the benefit of a level playing field, where any business with a great idea and competitive culture has a real chance to succeed on its own merits.”

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Comments (21)

21 responses to “Now the EU is Going After Voice Assistants, Smart Devices”

  1. karlinhigh

    "...where any business with a great idea and competitive culture has a real chance to succeed on its own merits.”

    Unless their idea is TOO great, and it becomes a category-killer, the only thing of its kind that most people want to use. Then that business will be busted for being anticompetitive.

    • proftheory

      In reply to karlinhigh:

      The issue to me seems to be that the EU doesn't want competition just innovation for the rest of society.

      If that doesn't scream Socialism I don't know what does. And kudos to Briton for Exiting.

      • ponsaelius

        In reply to proftheory:

        The primary economic argument for the British left has been that the EU is a capitalist club that can never be socialist. In particular their rules on state subsidy prevent Government ownership of businesses.

        The far right of British politics, what you would call republicans in the USA, argue in economic terms that the EU has too many rules stopping business. It is too socialist.

        Take whichever you like.

      • jimchamplin

        In reply to proftheory:

        Who cares if it’s socialism? Capitalism hasn’t done so hot, to make a point of it. If it had, millions of US (and other, but the US is the most focused example) citizens wouldn’t be struggling and suffering while the richest of the rich just get richer.

        • kevinbouwman

          In reply to jimchamplin:

          Capitalism isn't about guaranteed prosperity, just the right to pursue prosperity as you please. More people from all economic levels do better under capitalism than under any other system.

          • Paul Thurrott

            You forgot to end that with "... in my opinion." Also, how the hell did the conversation go down this path, lol? Geeze, guys.
        • karlinhigh

          In reply to jimchamplin: citizens wouldn't be struggling and suffering while the richest of the rich just get richer.

          Has ANY economic system historically been able to avoid that effect? Isn't it the case that good people can salvage bad systems, and bad people can tank even the best systems?

      • bdollerup

        In reply to proftheory:

        The EU wants competition and transparency. Neither of which screams socialism.. And let's nor forget that only half of the British wanted out.....

  2. red.radar

    I don’t understand the validity of her concern. It seems she is worried about how the data is used ... but weren’t these issues already addressed with GDPR regulations and requirements?

  3. ghostrider

    So let's see. Customers who buy or use these assistants have to give consent for the company to gather information. That's a simple one. Consent has to be given to even use them. Consumers don't seem to mind, they're getting services essentially for 'free', but as usual, data is everything, so that's what's being hoovered up. There's nothing new here, nobody seems to have a monopoly, but if you're first to market with something, you'll generally have the edge. If companies are taking data you haven't consented to though, that's different, but that's not a monopolistic situation, that's more data privacy breaches.

    I think there's a bunch of Eurocrats who get paid a lot of money to throw their weight around now and again to remind people they exist and justify their fat lunches and pay cheques, and they don't like big tech for some reason. It makes for high profile cases, especially when they can threaten with big fines, but are they really trying to protect Europeans, or just trying to justify own existence?

  4. mattbg

    While I appreciate their involvement and at least an attempt to do something here, the idea that the EU is going to implement regulations that allow some healthy EU competition to develop in these areas seems kind of far-fetched to me.

    OK, so we have Spotify. Is there anything else?

    The way these things roll out, it's almost like you can't get the necessary scale unless it's supported by another business line and/or ads and/or the value of the data. An ecosystem needs scale to be attractive to developers and therefore broadly useful, and people aren't going to buy $200 devices in the same quantities that they buy $40 devices. The same applies to free services like Google Search, Facebook, etc.

    I think the EU should be more focused on abandonment of IoT devices such that they're no longer patched/updated. But again, these things are expensive to maintain over long periods of time and people aren't willing to pay for it.

    People want these devices but they don't want to pay the all-in price to have them updated forever and be free of data collection.

    What it boils down to is the people complaining about their own behaviors and trying to blame corporations for it, which is familiar ground - fast food, McDonalds, etc.

  5. jimchamplin

    Business may try to get a benefit over their competitors.


  6. ngc224

    It’s pathetic the U.S. relies on the EU to lead antitrust enforcement.

  7. txag

    There is nothing that the EU does not desire to regulate.

  8. wright_is

    Surely this falls under GDPR? They can't store the data for longer than it is needed to carry out the action and they can't use it for any other purposes, such as advertising or profiling, without first getting explicit permission to do so.

    • red.radar

      In reply to wright_is:

      Seems like she is damaging her credibility further with this issue for the reasons you bring up. She is stinging from the Apple -Ireland judgement and her biggest critique within the eu parliament was that she was unprepared for the trial.

      feels like this is turning into a vendetta rather than a healthy rebuke of anti-trust abuses

      • wright_is

        In reply to red.radar:

        Probably, the thrust is that the way the data is being stored isn't GDPR compliant and is therefore giving them an unfair advantage. But simply prosecuting them under GDPR would have the same effect.

    • Ajay213

      In reply to wright_is: Agreed, I don't see any way it could not be about privacy, the privacy terms on many IOT devices is absolutely scary.

  9. derekabraham

    EU is just trying to do things for the sake of it and to please local/homegrown companies.