The Digital Markets Act has recently become more stringent, and it appears that it is now also targeting virtual assistant selection.
Consider how your iPhone setup would begin by asking whether you want Siri, Alexa, or Google Assistant.
It is possible. Maybe.
The Digital Marketing Act (DMA) of the European Union, a set of rules aimed at so-called digital gatekeepers such as Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and Apple, could have far-reaching implications for everything from search and browsers to messaging services across multiple platforms.
It now appears to be aimed at your favorite digital assistants as well.
For nearly two years, EU policymakers have been working on the DMA with the goal of “ensuring fair and open markets.” It focuses on businesses and digital services with large user bases (45 million monthly active users) and significant revenue (75B Euros). If passed in October of this year, it will require:
Interoperability between these major corporations and third-party service providers
Customer access to data generated by the services of this company
It would allow advertisers to use their own tools to track ad performance on these large company platforms (think Google AdSense)
Interoperability of proprietary messaging services with third-party messaging services
Allow promotions and the use of third-party transaction services on the platforms.
However, the EU committees met again this week to continue negotiating the DMA, and hidden among the laundry list of new requirements is this:
“…the requirement that users be able to freely select their browser, virtual assistants, or search engines.”
Browser and search engine selection are already standard features of Apple’s iOS, macOS, and iPadOS, as well as Microsoft’s Windows and browsers such as Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.
What no one asks about and is frequently baked into hardware are our virtual assistants.
Siri is pre-installed on every iPhone as part of the operating system. Siri is the personal assistant who responds when you press and hold the power/sleep button. When you say “Hey Siri,” the digital voice responds. Google Assistant is the default app on Google devices. More importantly, no Echo device is available with the option to switch from Alexa to another assistant.
This DMA, as written, exposes Apple, Amazon, and possibly Google to violations and fines if they do not allow consumers to choose between, say, Siri and Alexa, Google Assistant, and even Samsung’s Bixby. Individual violations of any of the DMA rules would result in fines equal to 10% of total worldwide revenue, with fines increasing to 20% of revenue for repeat violations.
It’s worth noting that the EU Commission, which oversees the European Union but not the global operations of Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and other qualifying companies, is pursuing each company’s global earnings.
It also calls into question the actual teeth of these potential rules.
Developed with the goal of protecting small businesses and smaller companies, as well as the interests of European companies and customers, there is a possibility that rules enacted in the EU will affect customers all over the world.
While Google and Apple issued statements that appeared to support the DMA’s sentiment, both expressed concern about how the rules might impact innovation, choice, privacy, and security.
An Apple spokesperson provided the following statement to TechRadar regarding the latest provisions:
“Apple has always been committed to developing the best, most innovative products for our customers while also protecting their privacy and security.” We remain concerned that some DMA provisions will expose our users to unnecessary privacy and security risks, while others will prevent us from charging for intellectual property in which we have invested heavily. We believe passionately in competition and the creation of thriving competitive markets around the world, and we will continue to collaborate with stakeholders across Europe in the hopes of mitigating these vulnerabilities.”
For the time being, the company is not discussing virtual assistants.
The query from the voice assistant
Google Assistant, Siri, and Alexa are important connective tissue for Google, Apple, and Amazon’s ecosystems of connected devices and services.
Siri can communicate with and control iPads, iPhones, Macs, HomePods, and services such as Apple Music and Maps, according to Apple. Google Assistant is present in nearly all of Google’s Knowledgebase-driven systems. Alexa is an intriguing case because, perhaps more than Google Assistant, it weaves through all Amazon hardware and services and, as an open service, lives on countless third-party devices. Furthermore, unlike Apple’s Siri, it allows you to integrate third-party service control. Perhaps the EU will be more sympathetic to Alexa.
If the EU is able to enact the full scope of the DMA in October, the impact will be felt far beyond the EU’s borders. It’s likely that Congress and the White House, which have been debating and debating regulation and the breakup of big tech for years, will use the DMA as a quick-fix stop-gap template until they can come up with their own rules (I won’t hold my breath).
If all of this occurs, it will be a watershed moment for Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other large tech companies that meet the threshold. It could also mean a major shift for your favorite virtual assistant.
“Hello Siri, “Are you concerned?”