Google closes Fitbit deal despite ongoing legal probes

US and Australian regulators are still investigating whether the $2.1 billion (£1.54bn) acquisition will harm competition and user privacy

Google has closed its $2.1 billion (£1.54bn) acquisition of Fitbit despite ongoing antitrust investigations by the US and Australian competition regulators.

The tech giant announced in a blog post on Thursday that it had completed the acquisition, which was first announced in November 2019, which included binding commitments about protecting Fitbit data from Google advertising.

In the statement, Google’s senior VP of Devices & Services Rick Osterloh said that “this deal has always been about devices, not data,” adding that the company had “been clear since the beginning” that it would “protect Fitbit users’ privacy”.

“We worked with global regulators on an approach which safeguards consumers' privacy expectations, including a series of binding commitments that confirm Fitbit users’ health and wellness data won't be used for Google ads and this data will be separated from other Google ads data,” he said, referring to the commitments presented by the European Commission, which approved the takeover last month.

“These commitments will be implemented globally so that all consumers can benefit from them,” Osterloh added.

However, following Google’s statement, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) said that its investigation of the acquisition “remains ongoing”.

Deputy assistant attorney general Alex Okuliar said that “although the division has not reached a final decision about whether to pursue an enforcement action, the [DoJ’s Antitrust] division continues to investigate whether Google’s acquisition of Fitbit may harm competition and consumers in the United States”.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission also indicated that its probe into the acquisition wasn’t finalised just yet.

The regulator’s chair Rod Sims said: “Depending on the results of our investigation, we will consider whether to take legal action on this matter.”

According to Reuters, the same commitments agreed by the European Commission were rejected by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission due to concerns that the tech giant might obstruct Fitbit’s rivals from connecting to phones running Google’s Android operating software.

Juniper Research lead analyst James Moar said: “If regulators don’t approve the deal, it will likely have to be undone, with all the corporate fallout and cost that would entail.”

However, Moar also added that, by announcing the closure of the acquisition, “Google is in effect announcing it considers the possibility of regulatory objection at this stage very unlikely”.

“The US investigation has been ongoing for quite some time, and hasn’t announced any major objections, while the EU investigation did have some quite substantive questions about data sharing and the like. With those overcome and no large objections present from the DoJ after over a year of investigation, it’s unlikely that the US investigation will turn up any objections that could prohibit the deal,” he said.

A Google spokesperson said that the company had “complied with the DOJ’s (Justice Department’s) extensive review for the past 14 months, and the agreed upon waiting period expired without their objection”.

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