Watch out, Siri, the EU is coming for you

Imagine if setting up your iPhone started by asking if you want Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant.

It could happen. May be.

The European Union’s Digital Marketing Act (DMA), a set of rules targeting so-called digital gatekeepers like Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple, could have broad implications for everything from search and browsers to messaging services across multiple platforms.

Now it also seems to target your favorite digital assistants.

EU policy makers have been working on AMD for nearly two years with the aim of “ensuring fair and open markets”. It targets businesses and digital services that have huge user bases (45 million monthly active users) and large revenues (75 billion euros). If enacted in October this year, it applies:

  • Interoperability between these large companies and third-party providers
  • Customer access to the data generated in the services of these companies
  • This would give advertisers the ability to use their own tools to measure ad performance on these large enterprise platforms (think Google AdSense)
  • Opening proprietary email services to interoperability with third-party email services
  • Open platforms to promotions and use of third-party transaction services

This week, however, EU committees met again to further negotiate the DMA, and hidden among the long list of new demands is this:

“…a requirement to allow users to freely choose their browser, virtual assistants or search engines.”

Browser choice and search engine selection are already a given on Apple’s iOS, macOS and iPadOS, as it is on Microsoft’s Windows and browsers like Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.

What no one really asks of us, and which is often built into the hardware, are our virtual assistants.

Every iPhone comes with Siri built-in at the system level. Siri is the assistant that responds when you hold down the sleep button. It’s the digital voice that responds when you say “Hey Siri”. In Google devices, Google Assistant is the default. More importantly, no Echo device is sold with the ability to switch from Alexa to another assistant.

As written, this DMA exposes Apple, Amazon, and possibly Google to violations and fines if they don’t allow consumers to choose between, say, Siri and Alexa or Google Assistant and even Samsung’s Bixby. Individual violations of any of the DMA rules would result in fines equal to 10% of overall worldwide revenue and could be as high as 20% of revenue for repeated violations.

It should be noted that the European Commission, which oversees the European Union and not the global operations of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and other qualifying companies, is going after each company. global earnings.

This further raises the question of the real bite of these potential rules.

Developed with the aim of protecting small businesses, the smallest businesses, and in particular the interests of European businesses and customers, rules adopted in the EU may affect customers worldwide.

Google and Apple released statements that, while appearing to support DMA sentiment, both expressed concern about how the rules could impact innovation, choice, privacy and security.

An Apple spokesperson shared this statement with TechRadar on the latest provisions:

“Apple has always been committed to creating the best, most innovative products for our customers and to ensuring that their privacy and security are always protected. We remain concerned that certain provisions of the DMA will create unnecessary vulnerabilities in the privacy and security for our users while others will prohibit us from charging for intellectual property that we invest heavily in. We believe deeply in competition and in creating thriving competitive markets around the world, and we will continue to work with stakeholders across Europe in hopes of mitigating these vulnerabilities.”

The company does not speak, for the moment, of virtual assistants.

The voice assistant question

For Google, Apple and Amazon, Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa represent an important connective tissue in their ecosystems of connected devices and services.

Apple lets Siri speak and control iPads, iPhones, Macs, HomePods, and control services like Apple Music and Maps. The Google Assistant integrates into almost all of Google’s knowledge base-based systems. Alexa is an interesting case because, perhaps even more so than Google Assistant, it sneaks into all Amazon hardware and services and, as an open service, lives on countless third-party hardware. Plus, unlike Apple’s Siri, it lets you integrate third-party service control. Mabe the EU will look kinder to Alexa.

If in October the EU is able to enact the full DMA, its impact will be felt far beyond EU borders. It’s likely that Congress and the White House, which have been thinking and discussing big tech regulation and disruption for years, could use DMA as a model for a quick fix until it can come up with its own rules. (I won’t hold your breath).

If all of this happens, it will be a day of reckoning for Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook and other big tech companies that reach the threshold. It could also be a game changer for your favorite virtual assistant.

“Hey Siri, are you worried?”

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