Washington, D.C. — The Consumer Federation of America (CFA), along with over a dozen international consumer and citizen groups, are sounding the alarm and urging regulators to closely scrutinize competition and privacy concerns raised by Google’s proposed takeover of wearables company Fitbit.
The groups released a joint statement raising three key issues that regulators must prioritize during their ongoing merger review: Google’s ability to limit interoperability between their Android smartphone operating system and competitors’ wearables, Google’s potential limiting rival’s access to wearables data, and Google further entrenching their well-established dominance in the digital advertising market, which relies heavily on data access.
“A Google takeover of Fitbit would give Google a significant foothold in both the wearables and digital health markets overnight, potentially with long-term privacy implications in these sensitive markets,” said Amina Abdu, an Antitrust Advocate at CFA. “On top of that, Google would extend its ability to exploit its already massive market power in digital advertising.”
This is not the first time consumer groups have expressed concerns about this very takeover. In July, CFA and a coalition of 20 consumer groups called on regulators to scrutinize the deal, and in April CFA partnered with Public Knowledge on a letter to the Department of Justice about the merger’s potential harms.
Recent reports, however, suggest that regulators are seeking commitments from Google to allow them to clear this deal. The latest statement focuses on the critical safeguards that must be in place to protect consumers if the merger is allowed to go through: “(1) continued complete wearables interoperability with Android, (2) that digital health markets remain competitive and innovative with high levels of data security and privacy protection, (3) that Google is prevented from further increasing its dominance in online advertising, and (4) include safeguards to ensure the effects of the commitments are not neutralized in practice.”
“It is not enough to just accept Google’s word on these commitments, which have serious implications in multiple markets from wearables, to health, to digital advertising,” said Abdu. “Google has backed out of its promises in the past. After claiming they would not combine Google’s personally identifiable information with DoubleClick’s advertising data, they changed their policies with little regard for consumer privacy.”
“Whatever decision regulators make, they should take a hard look at the implications, both now and in the future,” added Abdu. “If a remedy remains in place only as long as it is convenient for Google, it is not really a remedy at all.”
Contact: Amina Abdu, 202-656-1282