The European Commission, on Thursday, launched a two-year probe into the Internet of Things market to see if companies such as Apple, Amazon, and Google, among others, can engage in anticompetitive practices with their virtual assistants and other smart devices. The Commission will send questionnaires to about 400 companies based in Europe, Asia, and America that sell smart home appliances, wearables and voice assistants, as part of the probe.
EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager raised concerns particularly about Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa, which she said tie the companies’ smart devices, and data collection practices together. “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,” she said in a statement.
As part of the probe, the Commission is seeking information about the IoT products these companies sell, and how the markets for those products work. They’ll also be asked about how these smart devices and virtual assistants collect, and use data, and how these companies monetise it. The Commission will also ask companies about how interoperable these companies’ smart offerings really are. The Commission will prepare a preliminary report based on responses it received, and will present it for public consultation by next year.
“We know there’s a risk that some of these players could become gatekeepers of the Internet of Things, with the power to make or break other companies. And these gatekeepers might use that power to harm competition, to the detriment of consumers,” she added. It could be familiar behaviour like “self-preferencing” – directing users towards their own products or services. Or it could be exclusive deals with other companies, to send you to a certain, “preferred” provider of products and services.
Interoperability of these devices will be an important aspect of the Commission’s probe. “For us to get the most out of the Internet of Things, our smart devices need to communicate. So if the devices from different companies don’t work together, then consumers may be locked in to just one provider. And be limited to what that provider has to offer,” Vestager said.
Before this, the Commission launched two investigations to see if Apple’s App Store and Apple Pay policies stifle competition, and is expected initiate a probe looking into Amazon’s use of third-party sellers’ data.