Google Fitbit Data Pledge Not Sufficient To Offset Antitrust Probe

Alphabet’s Google division faces a full-blown 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 has already 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 in next few weeks as whether to approve the deal with or without concessions, or open a longer investigation.

Data pledge

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.

A couple of weeks ago 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 Google responded when it offered not to use health data of Fitbit to help it target ads.

Not enough

Yet this pledge not to use Fitbit data is not sufficient to prevent a full EC investigation, Reuters reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

The European Commission will launch the probe following the end of its preliminary review on 4 August.

It is reportedly ready to make use of the four-month long investigation to explore in depth the use of data in healthcare, one of the people said.

The Commission declined to comment.

Google reiterated previous comments, saying the deal is about devices and not data.

“The wearables space is crowded, and we believe the combination of Google 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 was quoted as saying.

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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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