EU Signals Broader Probe Into Google’s Fitbit Buy

fitbit blaze

European Commission sounds out Google and Fitbit competitors about competitiona and privacy concerns as regulators increase pressure on big tech companies

The European Union has signalled that it may conduct an in-depth probe into Google’s proposed $2.1 billion (£1.7bn) acquisition of Fitbit, amidst a call by consumer groups to block the deal.

EU regulators have sent two detailed questionnaires, adding up to a total of 60 pages, to the companies’ competitors in an effort to assess the deal’s potential impact on competition.

The questionnaires also seek to assess how other fitness tracking apps in Google’s Play Store could be affected, whether the acquisition would give Google access to data that could be used to further entrench its search and advertising business, and how the arrangement might bolster Google’s digital healthcare business.

Image credit: European Commission fitbit
Image credit: European Commission

Broader probe

The level of detail of the questions indicates the European Commission is preparing for an in-depth investigation and may block the Fitbit deal, according to unnamed people familiar with the matter cited by the Financial Times.

The bloc has until 20 July to make a decision after the initial phase of the probe, and has the option of extending the investigation, asking for concessions or blocking the deal entirely.

Critics have said the deal raises the risk of a consumerisation of medical data and digital medical services.

Google has already raised the hackles of some with its acquisition of UK-based AI firm DeepMind, which works with NHS medical records, and the subsequent absorption of the firm into a newly created Google Health division based in California.

‘High sensitive’

Last week 20 consumer groups in Europe, the US and elsewhere called on regulators to block Google from gaining access to Fitbit’s “unique, highly sensitive data set” or to impose “strict and enforceable” limitations on the use of that data.

The proposed deal is Google’s largest in the consumer electronics business since its acquisition of smart home device maker Nest for $3.2bn in 2014.

The US’ Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have both said they will investigate the deal as part of a broader antitrust inquiry that also encompasses Apple, Amazon and Facebook.

The chief executives of all four companies are to testify before Congress later this month as part of a parallel probe by the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.