Google Pledges to Meet EU Data Demands for Fitbit

Posted on July 15, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Google, Wearables, Fitbit with 11 Comments

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With its $21 billion acquisition of Fitbit hanging in the balance, Google agreed not to use personal data from the devices for advertising.

“This deal is about devices, not data,” a Google statement reads. “We appreciate the opportunity to work with the European Commission on an approach that safeguards consumers’ expectations that Fitbit device data won’t be used for advertising.”

Google announced in November 2019 that it would acquire fitness wearable maker Fitbit for $2.1 billion pending regulatory approval. But the deal has been heavily criticized by privacy advocates who fear that Google will mine the devices for personal data and then use that to feed the users targeted advertising. And earlier this month, the European Commission sent out questionnaires asking Google’s rivals whether the Fitbit acquisition would harm competition.

20 consumer groups separately petitioned regulators in the United States and EU to reject the deal for privacy reasons, noting that “regulators must assume that Google will in practice utilize 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.”

Google’s statement seems to indicate that the firm understands the privacy concerns could scuttle its acquisition. But then the firm said in November that “Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads” and that users could “review, move, or delete their data.” So it’s unclear what’s really changed.

Furthermore, Google buying Fitbit certainly isn’t an antitrust concern: With just 3 percent marketshare in wearables, Fitbit is, if anything, somewhat of an also-ran in a market dominated by Apple Watch. Devices made by Xiaomi, Samsung, and Huawei also outsell Fitbit.

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Comments (11)

11 responses to “Google Pledges to Meet EU Data Demands for Fitbit”

  1. madthinus

    Mmm, worth relooking at why Google wants Fitbit.

  2. Chris_Kez

    I guess it is nice that Google has agreed not to use the Fitbit data for advertising, but I was hoping that this inquiry would shed more light on exactly how they will use the data.

  3. JacobTheDev

    Honestly, most of the data that a Fitbit collects can be approximated by an Android phone anyway – you can track your steps and stuff with Google Fit on a phone, you don't need a watch. I think the fears for this are overblown.

  4. nicholas_kathrein

    Yes, the data in fitbit isn't why Google wants them. Not everything is advertising. Every ecosystem has now needs certain devices to be part of it or you've fallen behind Apple. Google needs as much IP as it can get in wearable space so it can have an option that is every bit as tied in to Googles system as Apple has devices tied in to theirs. Does Google make money on Google Play music now Youtube music? Does Apple on Apple music? Most just make enough to break even. It's just a ecosystem play. Google and Apple and now even Amazon have to just put a whole system together to get people in. Lock in is a thing. Apple is very good at it. Google eventually needs to have a watch device that can somewhat compete with Apple Watch.

  5. sheffieldiswonderful

    I think it should read $2.1 billion rather than $21 billion.

  6. anoldamigauser

    There is no way that Google is not going to want to monetize this data. If it is personally identifiable, I can imagine that healthcare and insurance companies would love to have it. This is actually a bit more troubling than getting an ad for new running shoes every few hundred miles, or athletic clothing.

    The question is, how is Fitbit currently monetizing the data? If they are selling it, then there is no reason to prevent Google from doing so as well. If they are not, I would argue that Google should be prevented from selling it as a condition of the sale.

  7. youwerewarned

    You know--Google: The Hardware Company. And at the point that users can “review, move, or delete their data", Google has wrung all they need from it.

  8. anderb

    Fitbit and Google are a natural fit for one another. Neither can make reliable hardware. One year and two firmware upgrades later my Fitbit Inspire still needs to be reset every few weeks because the screen stops activating. If I hated someone enough I'd send them a Pixel and Fitbit and tell them to get shared notifications working.

  9. mitip

    Sadly Fitbit is now turning into the turkey professionals feared it would be in 2011 when it launched, a one trick device company that missed the bigger opportunity. Rather than adopt a long term strategy to make activity monitoring have a meaningful impact on health Fitbit never validated their devices adequately taking instead a typical Silicon Valley approach to profit short term from sexy device sales until the fad passes. By siloing user data in their proprietary one minute epoch format it could not be shared, taken elsewhere nor is trusted by professionals. Their success is in having rendered a rich source of movement data meaningless. What is far more worrying is that with Fitbit in Google's hands one's activity/movement can be correlated to location and purchasing. What health insurer would not like to know if a diabetic they support does very little activity and was seen frequently at the mall consuming cheeseburgers. Fitbit in Google's hands could, in one simple step, create a new health prejudice to challenge racial prejudice. I do hope Google are getting cold feet about this purchase.