Privacy groups warn against Google's acquisition of Fitbit

Advocacy groups claim Google could exploit Fitbit’s data collection capabilities

Advocacy groups are urging regulators to be wary of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit, warning the merger could be damaging to user privacy and competition in the digital health market.

20 advocacy groups from the US, Europe, and Latin America have come together to release a statement that claims Google could exploit Fitbit’s data collection capabilities to strengthen its online advertising, while also establishing “a commanding position in digital and related health markets, depriving competitors of the ability to compete effectively.”

Signatories of the letter include organizations such as US-based Public Citizen, Access Now from Europe, the Brazilian Institute of Consumer Defense, and US.-based Color of Change, among others. 

In the letter, the groups argue Google could use intimate user data, such as how many steps a user takes on a daily basis, the quality of their sleep and their heart rate, to further improve its advertising capabilities and “feed digital services back to consumers.”

They also argue that Google could also use Fitbit to establish its dominance in other markets, specifically health markets. In doing so, the group says Google would ultimately “reduce consumer welfare (including degrading data privacy options), limit innovation and raise prices” 

“Past experience shows that regulators must be very wary of any promises made by merging parties about restricting the use of the acquisition target’s data,” the letter says. “Regulators must assume that Google will in practice utilize the entirety of Fitbit’s currently independent unique, highly sensitive data set in combination with its own.”

EU antitrust regulators are currently scheduled to decide whether or not to clear the deal between Google and Fit by July 20. 

In response to the letter, a Google spokeswoman told Reuters: This deal is about devices, not data. We believe the combination of Google’s and Fitbit’s hardware efforts will increase competition in the sector.”

Google announced its acquisition of Fitbit in November 2019. At the time, Google said it would purchase the company for $7.35 per share in cash, valuing Fitbit at approximately $2.1 billion.  

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