The European Union has been digging into the competing implications of AI-powered voice assistants and other Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for nearly a year. Today it is the first report to discuss potential concerns that EU lawmakers say will help inform their broader digital policy making in the coming years.
A major piece of EU legislation introduced late last year is already set to enforce earlier rules on so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms operating in the region, including business practices for powerful ‘do’s and don’ts. Do’s list, intermediary platforms being baked into the upcoming pan-EU Digital Services Act.
But if the applications of the technology of course are not stable. The Block’s competition head, Margrethe Vestager, has also been keeping her eye on voice assistant AI technologies for some time – raising concerns about challenges to user choice until 2019, when she said her department was “trying to figure out what’s going on.” How access to data will change the market”.
The commission took a concrete step last July when it announced a field investigation to examine the concerns of IoT competition in detail.
It has now published a preliminary report, based on a poll of more than 200 companies operating in the consumer IoT product and service markets (in Europe, Asia and the Americas) – and the findings from the final report (as of September 1) And seeking feedback. in the first half of next year.
The main areas of potential competition concern have been found to be: exclusivity and binding practices with respect to voice assistants and practices that limit the possibility of using different voice assistants on the same smart device; The intermediary role of voice assistants and mobile OS between users and the broader device and services market – with concern that the platform allows owners of voice AI to control user relationships, potentially increasing the discovery and visibility of rival IoT services. affects.
Another concern is the (unequal) access to the data. The survey participants suggested that platform and voice assistant operators enjoy wider access to user data – including capturing information on user interactions with third-party smart devices and consumer IoT services – as a result of intermediate voice AI.
“Respondents to field inquiries believe that access to and accumulation of large amounts of data will not only benefit voice assistant providers with regard to the improvement and market positioning of their general-purpose voice assistants, but they also Will also allow for higher leverage. Easily in adjacent markets,” the commission writes in a press release.
A similar concern is under Amazon’s ongoing EU antitrust investigation into its use of data from third-party merchants it obtains through its ecommerce marketplace (and which the Commission believes can be used in online retail markets). may be illegally perverted competition).
The lack of interoperability in the consumer IoT sector is another concern in the report. “Specifically, some providers of voice assistants and operating systems are asked to be able to control unilateral interoperability and integration processes and to limit the functionality of third-party smart devices and consumer IoT services,” it says. .
Nothing in the above list is surprising. But it is noteworthy that the Commission is trying to address competing risks – and is beginning to consider possible measures – at a time when voice assistant AI adoption is still at a relatively early stage in this area.
In its press release, the Commission noted that the use of voice assistant technology is increasing worldwide and is expected to double between 2020 and 2024 (from 4.2BN voice AI to 8.4BN) – although Europeans surveyed last year Only 11% of union citizens had already used one. Voice assistant, per quoted Eurostat data.
EU lawmakers have certainly learned lessons from the recent failure of competition policy to keep up with digital growth and rein in the first wave of tech giants. And of course they continue to dominate the market for legendary voice AI (Amazon with Alexa, Google with its eponymous assistant and Apple’s Siri). The risks to competition are therefore clear – and the Commission will be keen to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Still, how policymakers might look to tackle the competitive lock-in around Voice AI – whose USPs are lazy-web, push-button and branded convenience for users – remains to be seen.
One option, implementing interoperability, could increase complexity in a way that is negative for usability – and could raise other concerns, such as those around privacy of user data.
Although letting users have more say in themselves and control over which consumer technology they own can certainly be a good idea, at least provided that the platform’s presentation of choice is not in itself manipulative and exploitative. Ho.
There are certainly a lot of disadvantages where IoT and competition are concerned – but there are also potential opportunities for startups and smaller players if proactive regulatory action can ensure that major platforms don’t get to set all defaults once again. Huh.
Commenting in a statement, Vestager said: “When we began investigating this area, we were concerned that this area might be prone to the emergence of gatekeepers. We were concerned that they would be at risk of developing businesses and consumers to the detriment. From the first results published today, it appears that many people in this area share our concerns and for consumers of the Internet of Things in their daily lives. Fair competition is needed to make the most of great potential. This analysis will be included in our future enforcement and regulatory action, so we look forward to receiving further feedback from all interested stakeholders in the coming months.”
The full regional report can be found here.