EU announces in-depth investigation into Google Fitbit deal

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The EU is examining whether Google’s proposed $ 2.1 billion takeover of fitness company Fitbit will give the company more data to boost its search engine and advertising, while consumer groups have requested that the agreement be blocked.

EU regulators sent out two questionnaires, totaling around 60 pages, asking Google and Fitbit’s competitors if the deal will hurt competition, will disadvantage other fitness tracking apps in the Google Play Store , or give Google more profiling data to improve its search and online advertising activities.

The questionnaires also ask competitors to assess the impact of the agreement on the growth of Google’s digital health business.

In addition, 20 consumer groups, including the European umbrella consumer organization BEUC and the Federation of American Consumers, issued a warning on the deal on Thursday.

“Regulators must assume that Google will in practice use the entire unique and highly sensitive Fitbit dataset currently in combination with its own, in particular as this could increase its profits, or they must impose strict limitations and enforceable on the use of data, “they said in a joint statement.

The detail of the questions asked by the EU suggests that Brussels is preparing for a full investigation and could block the transaction, according to people with first-hand knowledge of the situation.

The EU has until July 20 to make a decision after the initial phase of the investigation is complete and may drop the deal, extend the investigation, or request concessions.

Last month, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission expressed concern that the deal could strengthen Google’s position.

“Google’s past acquisitions of both start-ups and mature companies like Fitbit have further strengthened Google’s position,” said Rod Sims, president of the Australian watchdog, last month. “Access to user data available to Google has made its content so valuable to advertisers that it faces only limited competition. ”

The Australian authority said it was examining the “uniqueness and potential value” that Fitbit data would give Google.

“The risk is that Google will extend its empire of consumer data also to vital medical data and that digital medical services will experience some kind of consumerization rather than being available to the wider medical community,” said an antitrust expert. in Brussels with direct knowledge of the agreement. .

When the deal was announced, Rick Osterloh, executive vice president of devices and services at Google, said the company “will be transparent about what data we collect and why. We will never sell personal information to anyone. Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to view, move or delete their data. ”

Google said, “Throughout this process, we have been clear about our commitment not to use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and about our responsibility to give people choice and choice. control of their data.

“As with our other products, with portable accessories, we will be transparent about what data we collect and why. And we don’t sell personal information to anyone. “

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