According to the New York Post, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is planning to review the Google-Fitbit deal over concerns about consumer privacy.
We reported last month that Google had agreed to acquire Fitbit for $2.1 billion. As part of the announcement, Google did its best to reassure current users that it would respect their privacy and that their personal data would not be sold to third parties or be used for advertising. A couple of weeks later, it came to light that Facebook had also been interested in the wearable company, losing out in a bidding war against Google. At the end of that article, we made the following observation:
“While some users have understandably been concerned about privacy in the wake of the announcement Google was purchasing Fitbit, it’s probably a safe bet that far more users would be concerned if Facebook was the buyer.”
Evidently, the fact that Google is buying Fitbit instead of Facebook is not enough of a consolation prize to prevent regulatory scrutiny. In fact, according to the New York Post, both the DOJ and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wanted to review the deal, with one source describing it “as a real ‘arm wrestle’ between the agencies.”
Both agencies are concerned with the privacy implications, given the amount of data Google already has about people’s lives. They fear that allowing Google to purchase Fitbit will give them too much data, especially sensitive health information. Google is already under scrutiny for Project Nightingale, Google’s partnership with the Ascension healthcare group to collect data on millions of patients.
While the FTC has usually investigated Google’s past deals, the DOJ won out this time due to the fact they are “presently investigating Google for broader anti-competitive issues.”
Although it’s too early to know how the DOJ will rule, the Public Citizen and the Center for Digital Democracy had previously urged the FTC to block the merger. With increased scrutiny on Google’s handling of customer data, it may be an uphill battle to close the Fitbit deal.