Google buyout of Fitbit worries Europe and beyond

In November 2019, Google formalized its offer of $ 2.1 billion to buy Fitbit, a pioneer and one of the leaders in connected watches and sports activity trackers, behind Apple. An operation that would allow the American giant to set up on this market, important for any player like him who has ambitions in well-being and health data. This operation arouses a lot of distrust in Europe, both for competition issues and for the protection of personal data.

As part of their investigation, the competition services of the European Commission have just sent two questionnaires of around sixty pages to competing companies, according to the Financial Times. In an attempt to assess the impact of the operation, the questions relate to the consequences envisaged for other fitness applications, advertising targeting and the digital health market.

In February, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB, which brings together all the Cnil of the European Union) was already alarmed publicly about the processing of personal information of Fitbit users. However, these connected objects are brought to collect precious information such as the heart rate, that of sleep or allow geolocation to track a user.

«Beware of any promise»

To these concerns, Google has already responded that it undertakes not to use Fitbit users’ health and wellness data for its advertising targeting. He promised to give them “the choice and control of their dataAnd be completely transparent about the reason for the data collected.

«Beware of any promiseRetort twenty NGOs in a joint statement sent Thursday to regulators around the world to detail their own concerns about the operation and put pressure. Among them, the European Bureau of Consumer Unions, the Open Markets Institute and the Consumer Federation of America. “Regulators around the world must pay the utmost attention to this transaction», They write. “They must assume that Google will use in practice all of the unique, highly sensitive and currently independent data from Fitbit in combination with its own.», They add.

A test for competition authorities

For them, this takeover is “a test to find out how regulators are tackling the immense power that tech giants have over the digital economy and their ability to expand their ecosystems without control».

The European Commission must decide on 20 July at the earliest to authorize the operation, to request concessions or to deepen its investigation. In the U.S., the justice department is also monitoring the merger between Fitbit and Google closely. “When a company derives the vast majority of its profits from digital advertising, I think it is naive to think that it will not use all the data it can to improve its results.“Said David Cicilline, chairman of the Antitrust subcommittee in the House of Representatives.

In a preliminary opinion issued in June, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) also expressed reservations about the takeover fearing that this influx of new data could affect competition in the health and online advertising. “The user data Google can access gives it so much value to advertisers that it faces only limited competition“Said its president Rod Sims. It will make its final decision on August 13, but has no power to block a transaction outside of Australia.

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