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Antitrust, Privacy Concerns Surround Google’s Fitbit Takeover Bid

 |  February 11, 2020

Google‘s plan to buy Fitbit isn’t going as well as it had hoped, reports said. The search engine giant has been running into a wall of regulatory red tape, as competition officials across multiple continents worry that the mass control of data by tech giants could have negative implications.

The acquisition, worth US$2.1 billion on Google’s part, would give the tech giant control over Fitbit’s array of smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other such wearable devices, another industry added to Google’s increasing arsenal. Google parent Alphabet has been eyeing ways to enter the healthcare sector, and Fitbit’s 28 million users seemed to fit the bill.

However, even though the company wouldn’t directly compete with Google, and the profit would still be just a small share of the hardware and fitness-tracking industry, the merger has raised alarm bells for regulators. The Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust Division is investigating the merger, and the EU will likely review it as well, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Australian authorities are looking into the matter, though no serious action will be taken until both companies file with their watchdog officials. Neither Google nor Fitbit have responded to requests for comment.

In Europe, the EU has been concerned for some time about the leveraging of massive amounts of data by large tech companies like Google. Regulators from various places have critiqued that they’ve been too accepting of some deals in the past — such as Facebook’s takeover of WhatsApp for US$19 billion in 2014, or its US$1 billion buyout of Instagram in 2012.

Maurice Stucke, an antitrust professor at the University of Tennessee, called Google a “data-opoly,” and said the concern was that the tech giant could use its data to reinforce the hold over large markets.

Antitrust activity has brought companies like Google into the investigation spotlight due to the size and privacy policies. For example, the US DOJ is looking into Google on issues of its third-party advertising, and dealings with publishers.

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