EU to probe Google’s Fitbit acquisition over management of data

4 Aug 2020278 Views

Fitbit headquarters in San Francisco. Image: © Sundry Photography/Stock.adobe.com

The European Commission has announced an in-depth investigation into the takeover of Fitbit, citing concerns over ad targeting and digital health data.

Competition and data concerns have prompted the European Commission to launch a full-scale investigation into Alphabet’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit.

Google’s parent company agreed to purchase wearable fitness device firm Fitbit for $2.1bn in late 2019. The details of this transaction have since been notified to the European Commission and Google later submitted commitments to address concerns raised by the commission.

Primarily, the commission is concerned that the proposed acquisition would increase the “already vast” amount of data Google can use for ad targeting, further entrenching the Big Tech company’s dominance in online advertising.

The commission also plans to investigate how a merger of Fitbit and Google’s databases and capabilities might impact the digital health sector, and if Google would be able to strongarm its rivals out of the fitness wearables market by limiting compatibility on the Android platform.

‘This data provides key insights about the life and the health situation of the users of these devices’
– MARGRETHE VESTAGER

“The use of wearable devices by European consumers is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. This will go hand in hand with an exponential growth of data generated through these devices,” said Margrethe Vestager, European Commission executive vice-president.

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“This data provides key insights about the life and the health situation of the users of these devices. 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.”

Data silo proposal ‘insufficient’

Among the commitments made by Google earlier this summer was the creation of a data silo, which would keep data collected through wearable devices separate from any other Google dataset. This data would be restricted from use in Google’s advertising products.

In its statement announcing the investigation, the European Commission said that the data silo commitment proposed by Google is “insufficient to clearly dismiss the serious doubts identified at this stage as to the effects of the transaction”.

The statement further elaborates that “the data silo remedy did not cover all the data that Google would access as a result of the transaction and would be valuable for advertising purposes”.

Following the announcement, the commission now has 90 working days to come to a decision, expected by 9 December.

Elaine Burke is the editor of Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com