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EU targets Siri and Alexa in internet of things probe

A sweeping new antitrust inquiry will affect Google, Apple, Amazon and other smart home developers.

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The European Commission plans to release preliminary findings as early as spring 2021. 
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The European Commission has announced a two-year inquiry into the growing smart home industry across Europe, focusing in particular on the effects of data gathering on competition in the market. In a statement, European Commission Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager said that despite the vast potential of the internet of things to improve daily life for average people, the ability of voice assistants and other smart devices to gather data on users poses a significant threat to market competition.

The inquiry will seemingly focus on tech giants like Google, Apple and Amazon, both for the central role their voice assistants play in the burgeoning smart home space, as well as for their role as "gatekeepers" to the market. Interoperability, says Vestager, is core to the success of the smart home as well as ongoing, healthy competition in the market. Thus, the risk of consumers getting locked into a single provider for appliances and other home goods could be on the rise.

"There's a risk that these markets could develop in a way that harms competition and consumers," said Vestager.

The commission's inquiry follows years of concern along similar lines -- that tech giants might have free access to too much of our data and that they can use such data to exert unfair control over competitors and unhealthy influence over their customers.

Vestager says the EU plans to release preliminary findings as early as spring 2021, and the inquiry should be complete by summer 2022.

Google, Apple and Amazon didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.