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Regulators wary of growing market power of Siri, Alexa and Google voice assistants

Apple's Siri running on an iPhone. 
Apple's Siri running on an iPhone. 

The European Commission's comments come after a year-long inquiry into voice assistants and other internet-connected devices, to which among more than 200 companies responded.

The growing market power of Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Alphabet's Google Assistant has triggered concerns of potentially anti-competitive practices, EU antitrust regulators said on Wednesday.

The comments from the European Commission come after a year-long inquiry into voice assistants and other internet-connected devices, to which among more than 200 companies responded.

Similar inquiries in the past into sectors such as e-commerce, pharmaceuticals, financial services and energy have led to cases against companies and hefty fines.

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Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are the most popular voice-assistant devices in Europe, with the global market expected to double to 8.4 billion devices from 4.2 billion between 2020 and 2024, according to Statista.

"We saw indications that some practices that we know too well may lead to tipping and to the emergence of gatekeepers," European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told reporters.

"And from the preliminary results published today, it appears that our concerns are shared by many players," she said.

Vestager said it was too early to say if the inquiry would lead to cases against companies but it was possible in future if the anti-competitive practices were confirmed.

The EU antitrust watchdog said respondents cited worries over certain exclusivity and tying practices related to voice assistants such as producers of smart devices being prevented from installing a second voice assistant on one device.

A second concern was about voice assistant providers promoting their own services or those of third parties via default settings on devices, thus restricting rivals.

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A third concern focused on the troves of data available to providers of voice assistants and smart devices, while a fourth worry was about the lack of interoperability between devices, with proprietary technology acting as de facto standards.

Google, Apple and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Vestager has proposed tough new rules known as the Digital Markets Act which targets a number of these practices. The draft needs to be thrashed out with EU lawmakers and EU countries before it can be implemented, likely next year.

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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