Alphabet’s Google division could fend off a potential 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.

Close scrutiny

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

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.

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

Last week the EC signalled 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.

Data pledge

But now Reuters is reporting that Google may be able to stave off a full-scale EU antitrust investigation by pledging not to use Fitbit’s health data to help it target ads, according to people familiar with the matter.

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

The European Commission declined to comment, but Google has until 13 July to offer any concessions on the deal, before the EC decision on 20 July.

Google has insisted 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 told Reuters.

“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 reportedly said.

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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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