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EC launches antitrust investigation including voice assistants


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2020 appears to be the year of European Commission antitrust investigations affecting Apple’s music operations, although the latest one will also be training its sights on Amazon and Google too.

The Commission has launched an antitrust competition inquiry into ‘the consumer Internet of Things’, focusing on “consumer-related products and services that are connected to a network and can be controlled at a distance, for example via a voice assistant or mobile device”. Smart speakers, wearables and other ‘home appliances’ for example.

“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 EVP and competition policy chief Margrethe Vestager as the investigation was announced.

As with all probes of this sort, the investigation will take its time: the EC will send requests for information to relevant companies in the coming weeks, and expects to publish a preliminary report in the spring of 2021, followed by a final report in the summer of 2022.

As Reuters pointed out, the products and services of Amazon, Apple and Google – their smart speakers and voice assistants in particular – are very much at the centre of this new probe. “It sends an important message to powerful operators in these market that we are watching them and that they need to do business in line with competition rules,” said Vestager at a press conference to announce the plans.

This will all be happening in parallel to two separate formal antitrust investigations of Apple specifically, one of which was partially sparked by Spotify’s complaint in 2019 about how the company runs its App Store and devices ecosystem. We suspect Spotify will be keen to offer its views to the consumer Internet of Things investigation too.

Stuart Dredge

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