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Vestager Defends Google Fitbit Data Deal Approval

 |  June 24, 2021

According to Bloomberg, Vestager responded to criticism that she’s been too lenient on big tech, pointing to Google’s pledge to separate data before taking over health tracker Fitbit last year as a success for the bloc’s deals regulator.

Google’s offer to store Fitbit’s data separately from its services “is much more than a simple promise not to combine data,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a Thursday, June 24, speech. “It’s much closer to a structural remedy” — jargon for divesting a unit — “with technical solutions that reliably keep data separate.”

Regulators often have limited choices to fixing antitrust problems with deals and need to consider businesses’ pledges to share data instead of blocking a takeover, Vestager said.

Consumer and privacy advocates have lobbied for the EU to block the tech deal as it could allow Google to expand into health services. Some other merger regulators were also critical of the EU’s approval of the deal and an apparent reluctance to demand divestments from digital firms.

EU approval of the deal last year came in a harsh climate as Google and others are facing mounting scrutiny of acquisitions that help them push into new business areas. Google announced its plans to buy Fitbit in November 2019, describing the bid for the smartwatch maker as a boost to its lagging hardware business.

Vestager warned that data issues will increasingly come up in merger reviews “and to fix that sort of issue, an important question is whether we can use a data silo remedy, that lets the companies merge, but keeps their data separate,” she said. Such a structure is “a kind of firewall that prevents companies from taking data from one side of a business and using it in another part.”

Regulators are also looking at Google’s dominant position in different parts of the advertising technology industry in a probe opened earlier this week, she said.

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