Google can ward off EU antitrust probe into Fitbit deal with data pledge

Google Fitbit Wearables

Google may be able to stave off a full-scale EU antitrust investigation into its planned $2.1 billion bid for fitness tracker Fitbit by pledging not to use Fitbit’s health data for its ads, people familiar with the matter said.

KEY POINTS:

  • Sources suggest that Google might be able to avert a full scale investigation by the EU into its takeover of Fitbit if it promises not to use the acquired health data for advertising
  • Earlier in July, regulators asked rival makers of wearable devices, developers and service providers as well as healthcare providers for their opinions
  • Google has said the acquisition related to devices not data

The deal announced in November last year allows Google, to better take on hardware manufacturers Apple and Samsung in the fitness trackers and smart watches market, where other players include China’s Huawei Technologies and Xiaomi.

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The leader in the global wearables market was Apple with a 29.3 % market share in the first quarter of 2020, followed by Xiaomi and Huawei, according to data from market research firm IDC. Fitbit’s share was 3%.

Still, the deal has drawn heavy criticism from privacy advocates on both sides of the Atlantic, concerned that Google may use Fitbit’s trove of health data to boost its dominance in online advertising and search.

Earlier this month, European Union regulators asked rival makers of wearable devices, app developers and other online service providers as well as healthcare providers for their views.

Google could allay competition worries by offering a binding pledge to EU competition enforcers along the lines of its promise last year not to use Fitbit’s health and wellness data for Google ads, the people said.

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The European Commission, which is scheduled to decide on the deal by July 20, declined to comment. The deadline for Google to offer suitable concessions is the 13th of this month

DEVICES NOT DATA

Google said the deal is about devices and not data.

“The wearables space is highly crowded, and we believe the combination of Google’s and Fitbit’s hardware efforts will increase competition in the sector, benefiting consumers and making the next generation of devices better and more affordable,” a spokeswoman said.

“Throughout this process we have been clear about our commitment not to use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and our responsibility to provide people with choice and control with their data,” she said.

The US Justice Department is also reviewing the deal while the Australian regulator said it could harm competition.

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Via our content partners at Reuters. Reporting by Foo Yun Chee. Editing by Marine Strauss and Frances Kerry.

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