Brussels inquiry slams the brakes on Google Fitbit deal

fitbitAny plans Google had for a speedy takeover of smartwatch business Fitbit have been scuppered by the Brussels, with the European Commission launching an official investigation into the proposed deal – which will not conclude until December at the earliest.

Google tabled a $2.1bn (£1.6bn) bid for Fitbit last November, sparking uproar from privacy groups and campaigners across the world.

The groups, which included the EU’s umbrella consumer organisation BEUC, the Consumer Federation of America and Privacy International, argued that Google would use Fitbit’s “highly sensitive data set in combination with its own, particularly as this would increase its profits”.

Meanwhile, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), which advises the Commission on data protection law, warned that it was concerned about the tech giant accumulating yet more personal data.

Now the Commission has officially launched its investigation into the acquisition, aiming to establish whether Google’s potential access to swathes of personal fitness data could “further entrench” its market dominance.

Fitbit, which has 28 million active users worldwide, collects vast quantities of user data from weight statistics to their fitness levels. Concerns have been raised that by accessing this data Google could personalise ads and further cement itself as the dominant force in online advertising.

The investigation could yet block the deal when the final verdict is delivered before the end of the year.

European Commission vice president Margarethe Vestager said: “Our investigation aims to ensure that control by Google over data collected through wearable devices as a result of the transaction does not distort competition.”

In response, Google devices chief Rick Osterloh commented: “This deal is about devices, not data. We’ve been clear from the beginning that we will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads.

“There’s vibrant competition when it comes to smartwatches and fitness trackers, with Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Fossil, Huawei, Xiaomi and many others offering numerous products at a range of prices.”

“We don’t currently make or sell wearable devices like these today. We believe the combination of Google and Fitbit’s hardware efforts will increase competition in the sector, making the next generation of devices better and more affordable.”

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