The EU will also look at whether the merger would incentivize Google to ‘degrade’ the interoperability of the Android OS with wearable products from rival companies.
European regulators have launched an investigation into whether Google will use data obtained through its Fitbit acquisition to create targeted ads and further solidify its position as a leading digital advertiser.
Fitbit is best known for creating smartwatches and fitness trackers that track data like how many steps you’ve taken in a day and calories burned. However, EU regulators are worried the same technologies will be combined with Google’s systems to take ad targeting to a new—and perhaps disturbing—personal level.
“This data provides key insights about the life and the health situation of the users of these devices,” said European Commission Executive VP Margrethe Vestager. “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.”
Wear OS enables third-party companies to create wearable devices using a version of the Android OS. However, buying Fitbit could help Google create its own line of Pixel smartwatches.
Google dismissed the antitrust concerns. “There’s vibrant competition when it comes to smartwatches and fitness trackers, with Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Fossil, Huawei, Xiaomi and many others offering numerous products at a range of prices,” Google SVP Rick Osterloh wrote in a blog post. “We believe the combination of Google and Fitbit’s hardware efforts will increase competition in the sector, making the next generation of devices better and more affordable.”
According to Osterloh, the merger with Fitbit also has nothing to with cementing Google’s presence in the ad market. “This deal is about devices, not data,” he added. “We’ve been clear from the beginning that we will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads. We recently offered to make a legally binding commitment to the European Commission regarding our use of Fitbit data.”
Google’s approach would supposedly mean storing the wearable data in a database separate from the company’s advertising business. However, EU regulators said the commitment wasn’t enough to address their antitrust concerns. “This is because 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,” the commission said.
The commission will make a decision by Dec. 9. In the US, the Justice Department is also reportedly scrutinizing the proposed merger.
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