Does the voice data harvested by voice assistants like Siri give tech giants an unfair marketplace advantage? Lawmakers in Europe are currently pondering that exact question.
A European Commission investigation into the matter will look at whether this data is being used to stifle competition and maintain the position of companies like Apple and Amazon in the marketplace. This most notably relates to the rapidly expanding constellation of smart, connected devices.
“The potential [of the Internet of Things] is incredible,” said Margrethe Vestager, a European Commission executive vice president who leads antitrust investigations. “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. And the trouble is that competition in digital markets can be fragile. When big companies abuse their power, they can very quickly push markets beyond the tipping point, where competition turns to monopoly. We’ve seen that happen before. If we don’t act in good time, there’s a serious risk that it will happen again, with the Internet of Things.”
To find out more, the European Commission issued a questionnaire to 400 firms around the world. The questionnaire includes questions about how the market for IoT devices works and how the data is used and monetized. The investigation will look for instances where voice assistants broke European rules on competition.
Europe wants to know about voice assistants like Siri
If this becomes an antitrust issue, it could blossom into yet another investigation that targets Apple in Europe. Apple already faces antitrust investigations concerning e-books, Apple Pay and the App Store there.
It will be interesting to see what this investigation concludes — particularly when it comes to Apple. Cupertino prides itself on not monetizing user data in quite the same way as ad-funded tech giants like Google and Facebook. Nonetheless, there has been occasional cause for concern.
In May, former Apple contractor Thomas le Bonniec argued that companies including Apple continue to ignore and violate “fundamental rights” with their “massive collection of data.” He is one of the ex-Apple contractors whose job involved listening to users’ Siri recordings.
Earlier this week, the European Commission lost its court case about Apple’s $14.8 billion tax bill.