/A team of advocacy groups is urging antitrust regulators around the world to take a hard look at the Google-Fitbit merger, saying the deal ‘is not in the interest of citizens’ (GOOG, FIT)

A team of advocacy groups is urging antitrust regulators around the world to take a hard look at the Google-Fitbit merger, saying the deal ‘is not in the interest of citizens’ (GOOG, FIT)

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  • A letter signed by 20 consumer and citizen advocacy groups is calling on regulators to closely scrutinize Google’s proposal to acquire Fitbit.
  • The merger is still under review. European regulators have set a July 20 deadline to make a decision on whether they will allow it to go ahead.
  • The letter’s signees, which include the Omidyar Network and Public Knowledge, say they are concerned that the deal would be bad for competition.
  • “Google’s proposed acquisition is not in the interest of citizens,” the groups said in a joint statement.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A letter signed by 20 consumer and citizen advocacy groups is calling on regulators around the world to closely scrutinize Google’s proposed merger with Fitbit.

The letter, which was signed by various organizations including Omidyar Network, the self-described “philanthropic investment firm” backed by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, as well as Access Now, Color of Change, and Public Knowledge. It was sent to antitrust authorities in the US, UK, EU, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Brazil.

The groups say they are concerned that the merger, which would see Fitbit wrapped into Google’s business, could be harmful for users and the market.

“Consumer and citizen groups have significant concerns that Google’s proposed takeover of wearables manufacturer Fitbit would be a game-changer not only for how people interact with the online world but also for digital and related health markets,” the letter reads.

Google announced last year that it intended to acquire Fitbit for $2.1 billion. The deal has attracted a huge amount of attention due to how much health data Fitbit holds, and what it would mean for Google to acquire it.

The merger is currently being examined by the Department of Justice in the US, while European regulators have set a July 20 deadline to decide whether the deal will go ahead, with the potential to extend the investigation by a further four months. Last month, Australia’s antitrust regulator warned that the merger could hurt competition.

“Google’s proposed acquisition is not in the interest of citizens,” wrote the letter’s co-signees in a separate statement. This letter, which was sent to get ahead of Europe’s July 20 deadline, highlights concerns over how Google will handle users’ health data.

“This merger is a test of regulators’ resolve to analyse the effects on competition of a tech giant acquiring a vast amount of highly valuable data through a takeover,” states the letter.

“Google could exploit Fitbit’s exceptionally valuable health and location datasets, and data collection capabilities, to
strengthen its already dominant position in digital markets such as online advertising.”

While the groups raise the issue of user privacy, their larger concern is with how obtaining this data could help consolidate Google’s dominant position in online advertising. 

At the time of announcing the deal, Google said it would not use Fitbit’s health data for its advertising business.

But advocacy groups are concerned that Google might not stick to this promise in the long term. Critics of the deal have pointed to how Google broke a similar promise when it acquired the online advertising company DoubleClick in 2007.

At the time, Google promised to keep DoubleClick’s data separate from its own bucket of user data, but quietly changed that policy almost a decade later.

“Regulators must assume that Google will in practice utilise the entirety of Fitbit’s currently independent unique, highly sensitive data set in combination with its own, particularly as this could increase its profits, or they must impose strict and enforceable limitations on data use,” reads the letter.

Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy director at Public Knowledge – one of the letter’s signees – told Business Insider that even if Google does keep Fitbit’s data separate from advertising, it doesn’t remove concerns over market competition.

“There may be potential competition implications for that data not being available for someone else who might want to buy it,” she said. “Maybe Fitbit would use that data to compete against Google, or maybe another competitor would buy Fitbit and use that data for their advertising.

“There could still be a lot of value to Google in having that data even if they don’t want to use it for advertising.”

Here’s the full list of signees:

Australian Privacy Foundation (Australia)
BEUC – The European Consumer Organization (EU)
Center for Digital Democracy (US)
Centre for Responsible Technology (Australia)
Color of Change (US)
Derechos Digitales (Latin America)
EDRi (EU)
Idec – Brazilian Institute of Consumer Defense (Brazil)
New America’s Open Technology Institute (US)
Omidyar Network (US)
Open Markets Institute (US)
Open Society European Policy Institute (EU)
Privacy International (Global)
Public Citizen (US)
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (Canada)
Public Knowledge (US)
Red en Defensa de los Derecho Digitales (Mexico)
Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (EU-US)

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