Alphabet’s Google division has made a remarkable concession in an effort to avoid a European Commission antitrust investigation into its controversial acquisition of Fitbit.

In November Google confirmed it was acquiring Fitbit in an $2.1bn (£1.63bn) deal, which made it Google’s largest deal in the consumer electronics field since its acquisition of smart home device maker Nest for $3.2bn in 2014.

But almost immediately lawmakers reacted with calls for the deal to be investigated, due to concerns the deal would give Google access to potentially sensitive data about people’s health and lifestyle.

Controversial deal

In December it was reported that both the DoJ and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had concerns about the deal, and both will investigate it, as part of a larger antitrust investigation into Google and other tech firms.

Google is also being investigated by a congressional committee and dozens of US states for allegedly using its dominance to harm smaller competitors.

Australia’s competition authority said that it may have concerns about the deal and would make a final decision in August.

In Europe meanwhile the EC signaled that it may conduct an in-depth probe into Google’s proposed acquisition, and it sent two detailed questionnaires to the companies’ competitors in an effort to assess the deal’s potential impact on competition.

The European Union antitrust regulators will make a decision by 20 July whether to approve the deal with or without concessions, or open a longer investigation.

Earlier this month however twenty advocacy groups from the United States, Europe, and Latin America signed a joint statement, saying the deal needed close scrutiny.

Data pledge

But last week EC sources suggested that Alphabet could be able to offset a potential antitrust probe of its Fitbit acquisition, if it pledges not to use its data for targeted adverts

And now Google has done just that, after it reportedly offered not to use health data of fitness tracker company Fitbit to help it target ads, it said late on Monday.

“This deal is about devices, not data. We appreciate the opportunity to work with the European Commission on an approach that safeguards consumers’ expectations that Fitbit device data won’t be used for advertising,” Google said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

It remains to be seen whether this pledge from Google is enough for the EC to offset a formal antitrust probe of the deal.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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