Wearable technology has been integral to fitness-minded folks looking to gain insights into their health with data. However, the news of popular wearable provider Fitbit being acquired last week by Google has raised some alarm among privacy advocates.
The $2.1 billion deal brings Fitbit’s wearables business under the Google umbrella, but the deal has drawn regulatory scrutiny over the health data at the heart of the company.
The Independent reports that the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is still considering enforcement action, despite the deal being announced by both companies.
“The Division continues to investigate whether Google’s acquisition of Fitbit may harm competition and consumers in the United States. The Division remains committed to conducting this review as thoroughly, efficiently, and expeditiously as possible,” Politico reporter Leah Nylen tweeted, citing the Antitrust Division.
In a statement announcing the acquisition, Google senior vice president of devices and services Rick Osterloh wrote, “This deal has always been about devices, not data, and we’ve been clear since the beginning that we will protect Fitbit users’ privacy. We worked with global regulators on an approach which safeguards consumers' privacy expectations, including a series of binding commitments that confirm Fitbit users’ health and wellness data won't be used for Google ads and this data will be separated from other Google ads data.”
Fitbit’s statement touched on some of the same privacy concerns, reading in part:
“Consumer trust is paramount to Fitbit. Strong privacy and security guidelines have been part of Fitbit’s DNA since day one, and this will not change. Fitbit will continue to put users in control of their data and will remain transparent about the data it collects and why. The company never sells personal information, and Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads.”
That might not be enough to satisfy regulators — or users — some of whom have reported being contacted by Fitbit despite having deleted their accounts prior to the merger.
Dear @fitbit / @FitbitSupport.— Tanya Janca (@shehackspurple) January 14, 2021
In 2019 I made a HUGE deal about having you permanently delete my data before Google bought you, and your helpdesk said you erased me. Yet I just received an email from you at my private email address. How did this happen?
Tanya Janca pic.twitter.com/gyzxeAohCX
Since Google harvests data in order to serve targeted advertising, there’s a concern that the health data Fitbit collects will be deployed in a similar fashion to get an even deeper look at individuals.
Google’s statement included a list of binding commitments it had agreed to in order to satisfy European regulators, which included among other things an agreement not to use Fitbit data in Google ads.