Google Purchase Of Fitbit Deserves Close Look, Advocates Say

Google's proposed $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit could give the tech giant new advantages over potential rivals, including other ad companies, consumer advocates warned Thursday.

“Given Google’s existing dominance in the gathering and monetizing of consumer data, we believe its proposed acquisition of Fitbit deserves careful scrutiny and should be rejected if the Justice Department finds that it may substantially harm competition,” Public Knowledge and the Consumer Federation of America say in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The groups set out several causes for concern, including that Google will gain access to Fitbit data about users' locations and their health. When Google announced the proposed acquisition last November, the company said it wouldn't use Fitbit data for ads.

But the watchdogs point out that companies' plans can evolve.

“Google could ... change its 'plans,' something that has occurred with data obtained in previous transactions,” they write, referencing Google's 2016 decision to revise a longstanding policy against combining data about people's Web-browsing activity -- which ad companies long insisted was "anonymous" -- with information seen as personally identifiable.

The possibility that Google executives will change their mind about Fitbit data raises “additional concerns about the potential for Google to expand power over data that may offer lucrative advertising potential,” the groups write.

The Justice Department, which began investigating the deal last December, recently broadened its review, according to The New York Post

Public Knowledge and the Consumer Federation aren't the only groups to raise concerns. Three weeks ago, the digital rights organization Electronic Frontier Foundation urged regulators to block the deal outright.

“Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit poses an extraordinary threat to competition and user privacy,” the organization stated. “Users face having their Fitbit information added to Google’s already large and invasive data pool, and a world that makes it harder and harder for privacy-focused tech companies to exist and compete.”

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