The wrestling of the European Commission with the digital corporations is like running from rabbits and hedgehogs.

Whenever the Commission believes it has put a stop to the anti-competitive behavior of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft in one area, they have restricted competition elsewhere.

Hendrik Kafsack

Business correspondent in Brussels.

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    This does not change the Digital Services Act (DMA) proposed by the Commission.

    She wants to forbid the Internet giants certain practices in order to be able to react more quickly to competition violations.

    Ultimately, however, the Commission only summarized known problems.

    The next big topic for competition in the digital market, voice assistants, is not covered by this.

    Problem recognized

    Experts warn that companies like Google are monopolizing the "Internet of Things" with its assistant.

    The company has agreed with manufacturers of mobile and home devices that they will make Google's voice-controlled search functions an exclusive search engine and at the same time prevent the installation of other voice assistants.

    At least the Commission has recognized the problem.

    In July 2020, it initiated an investigation into how Google, Apple and Amazon, as manufacturers and providers of operating systems for cell phones and household appliances that communicate with one another (“Smart Home”) are using the Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa assistants to restrict competition.

    Concerns in four areas

    Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager presented the preliminary results on Wednesday.

    The Commission Vice-President raised concerns in four areas.

    First, there are indications that device manufacturers - as in the Google case - are being prevented from installing multiple voice assistants.

    Consumers would therefore not be able to choose which assistant they would let control the device.

    Second, language assistants could favor their own offers as well as those of third parties.

    This could have serious consequences because, unlike traditional search engines, voice assistants usually only make a single offer and thus have even more influence, warn experts.

    Third, Vestager is concerned that the amount of data they collect about their associated devices is giving voice assistant providers an unrecoverable competitive edge.

    “That ranges from the average temperature in the kitchen to the time of the alarm clock and the favorite newspaper to the question of how you drink your coffee,” warns the Dane.

    Fourth, the various assistants are not interoperable. Consumers cannot use Apple devices with Alexa or Amazon devices with Siri. This restricts the offer as well as the competition and binds users to a single assistant.

    All concerned and interested parties can comment on the results of the preliminary report until September. She left it open on Wednesday whether Vestager wants to take action against the affected companies under antitrust law. However, she pointed out that some of the criticized practices, such as the restricted access of third parties to the collected data, the hurdles for a change of provider or the preference of one's own offers were covered by the "black list" of prohibited practices in the DMA proposal. "The investigation will contribute to the debate about the tailoring of the digital services law," said Vestager.

    The European Parliament is already considering expanding the DMA to include voice assistants.

    The MEP Tiemo Wölken, who oversees the law of the SPD in the legal committee, demands exactly that. "The next bouncers, like language assistants, are already foreseeable and should be included in the DMA," he says.

    The DMA describes the companies that control access to platforms such as Internet marketplaces as “bouncers”.

    Andreas Schwab (CDU), the rapporteur responsible for the law in parliament, is open to this.

    However, this may also be solved by the fact that Internet browsers, with which the voice assistants are linked, are subject to the new rules.