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Europe Data Protection Digest | Notes from the IAPP Europe Managing Director, 8 Nov. 2019 Related reading: A conversation on protecting children's privacy


Greetings from Brussels,

You may be aware by now of the pending acquisition by Google of fitness-monitoring company Fitbit. This particular story piqued my interest, perhaps more so than usual, as I am myself a Fitbit user.

Nonetheless, this is notable news in the acquisition field and, of course, has a certain significance for the personal data of 28 million Fitbit users worldwide. The deal is valued at 2.1 billion U.S. dollars and expected to close sometime in 2020. There have been a lot of shake-ups in the tech field, as some of the tech giants go head-to-head for market supremacy. This is about acquiring market share, and in this instance, it’s about Google taking on the likes of Apple and Samsung in what is already a crowded ecosystem for fitness trackers, smartwatches and wearables.

For Google, the stars appear to align on this opportunity. Fitbit has been a byword in the industry helping to pioneer innovation in fitness wearables and beyond. Fitbit has, however, struggled to compete with the deeper pockets of rival marketplace actors in recent years. In what concerns Google, this fits with its vision of creating new tools that “enhance knowledge, success, health and happiness,” according to their official blogs. They go further to acknowledge that privacy and security of user data is paramount, and that as with their other products, with wearables, they will be equally transparent about the data they collect and why. They have sought to reassure the public by stating that acquired Fitbit data will neither be used for Google Ads nor will they sell personal data.

With this latest acquisition, one may ask whether it is good for consumers. Founded in 2009, Fitbit will be yet another leading relative startup in its field to be taken over by a tech giant. One could infer that control of our personal data increasingly lies in the hands of the few and argue that consumers are justified to be concerned about their overall privacy and security, be they Fitbit users or others. The news has already covered many privacy issues in the tech sector with other actors. As a user of Fitbit, I know that there are some very personal datasets tracked, data that you may think twice about before sharing further than the platform or services for which they were initially collected. In this particular case, the possibility of connecting, assimilating or profiling that data into broader Google information sets may be a bridge too far for some. Conversely, you could invariably argue that consumers are getting a better service from the bigger tech companies that have more resources to dedicate to the optimal management of personal data, as well as privacy and security, so maybe this is a good thing for some. 

One wonders how the regulatory authorities view these types of mergers and acquisitions now and into the future. While Google and Fitbit offer different products, from a technology perspective, they are complementary, and by extension, from a data acquisition perspective, can only reinforce an already-dominant position. As competition and anti-trust converge ever more with data privacy issues, there is considerable scope for interdependent regulatory opinions.


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