EU Begins Antitrust Investigation Into Google Assistant on Android
The European Union is looking into whether Google has violated antitrust law by making Android devices use Google Assistant as the default voice assistant, according to an MLex report. The EU Competition Commission has begun examining if Google is forcing other device makers to set up its voice assistant as the default and limiting the installation of others, which could lead to fines and other penalties for Google and parent company Alphabet.
The Commission is looking to answer if Google is strong-arming companies to set Google Assistant as the default voice assistant on Android devices. The Commission reportedly asked manufacturers for any evidence they have that Google is pushing for preeminence and exclusivity, especially if they are leveraging their certification process for that purpose. This is just the first step in the investigation. A final report is expected in the first half of next year. Should it conclude that there may be an issue, a more formal investigation will be the next step. This wouldn’t be the first regulatory trouble Google faces in the EU. A recent ruling over Android brought a $5 billion fine that the company is currently contesting. Google has denied crossing any antitrust regulations.
The new inquiry has ties to the report issued a few months ago on competition and potential antitrust issues around the voice assistant and related technology market. The year-long inquiry gathered opinions from more than 200 companies on the topic. The final report will be used to inform potential industry policies and regulations. As voice assistants and the devices running them become more common and popular, the EC started receiving complaints and questions, prompting the new spate of reports and investigations. The EC estimated the approximately 4.2 billion voice AIs in 2020 would double to 8.4 billion by 2024.
The report cited Amazon and Apple, as well as Google, for setting barriers that are difficult for newer companies to push through and build a customer base. Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant push out potential rivals and wield a lot of power over the hardware that runs their voice assistants. One of the goals of the report is to set official standards for this kind of technology so that the default standards set up by the tech giants aren’t the only choices for smaller companies just starting out.