Consumer groups rap Google's Fitbit deal
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An international group of consumer groups and NGOs denounced Google's bid for sports smartwatch-maker Fitbit Thursday, saying it would threaten privacy and grant the search giant unfair access to a new market.
Google's $2.1 billion acquisition of the maker of smartwatches and fitness trackers was unveiled in November and rang alarm bells among global regulators over antitrust and privacy worries. Fitbit is a pioneer in the market for connected watches and other physical activity sensors that measure the number of daily steps taken, calories burned or hours of sleep.
A group of 20 NGOs "have significant concerns" that the takeover "would be a game-changer not only for how people interact with the online world but also for digital and related health markets," a statement said. "Regulators around the world... must therefore give it their utmost attention," they said, calling it a "test case" on facing down big tech firms.
The groups include BEUC, which unites EU consumer advocates, as well as the Consumer Federation of America in the US and digital rights groups in Mexico, Brazil and Australia. EU antiturst regulators, who are to decide on the transaction by July 20, are especially concerned with Silicon Valley giants buying their way into new areas and then stifling competition.
"Wearable devices could replace smartphones as the main gateway to the internet, just as smartphones replaced personal computers," the NGOs said a statement. "Google’s expansion into this market, edging out other competitors would thus be significant," they added.
A Google spokesman rejected the claims. "Throughout this process we have been clear about our commitment not to use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and our responsibility to provide people with choice and control with their data," the spokesman said. "Similar to our other products, with wearables, we will be transparent about the data we collect and why. And we do not sell personal information to anyone."
In February, the European Data Protection Board urged Google to make major assurances on privacy and data before it approved the buyout. Australia's Competition and Consumer Commission last month raised concerns that the transaction could "further entrench" Google's dominance and "adversely affect competition in several digital advertising and health markets."