Google Celebrates Completing Fitbit Acquisition, But Regulator Reviews May Not Be Over
Google declared the 14-month journey to finish buying Fitbit for $1.2 billion is at an end this week after assuaging the national governments around the world that the deal did not threaten competition or strangle future innovation. Regulators for Australia and the U.S. appear to disagree, however, and their investigations aren’t over quite yet.
Fitbit has slowly been making its devices more Google-friendly since the acquisition was first unveiled in November of 2019. The shift culminated in adding Google Assistant to two Fitbit smartwatch models, although without removing Amazon Alexa as an option. The new smartwatches are also Fitbit’s first to include speakers to make the voice assistants audible. Google has been prepping for the deal’s completion as well, judging from the growing health tools integrated into Google products and an entire Wellness section added to Google Assistant.
“This is just the beginning because becoming part of the Google family means we can do even more to inspire and motivate you on your journey to better health. We’ll be able to innovate faster, provide more choices, and make even better products to support your health and wellness needs,” Fitbit co-founder James Park wrote in a letter to users. “With access to Google’s incredible resources, knowledge and global platform, the possibilities are truly limitless.”
“Technology can change the way people manage their health and wellness, and that’s especially important these days,” Google senior vice president of devices and services Rick Osterloh explained in a blog post. “We’ll work closely to create new devices and services that help you enhance your knowledge, success, health and happiness.”
Left out of the official announcements was any mention of the Google Fit app, home of Google’s exercise software, or Wear OS, theoretically still Google’s operating system for wearables. Each had their moment in the sun as key elements of Google’s device strategy, but now seem relegated to the past in favor of Fitbit.
The acquisition’s actual completion became questionable after the U.S. and Australia hastened to refute Google and Fitbit.
The acquisition drew immediate investigation from government agencies when it was announced. How much industry control it would give Google and how the tech giant would protect the privacy of Fitbit’s many millions of clients were at the forefront of every organization’s examination of the deal. The European Commission ended up approving the acquisition in December, albeit with caveats about keeping Fitbit user data separate and not usable for advertising. On the competition side, any third-party access to Fitbit APIs can’t be shut down and Google can’t privilege Fitbit over other apps in the Android-powered wearables space. Google seemed happy enough to agree.
“This deal has always been about devices, not data, and we’ve been clear since the beginning that we will protect Fitbit users’ privacy,” Osterloh wrote. “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.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission questioned the privacy issues a few weeks ago and said their investigation won’t end until March 25. Technically, Google is allowed to finish the deal, but it turns the review into an enforcement investigation, with potentially higher penalties. Eyebrows were raised by the news at the U.S. Department of Justice as well. The Antitrust Division of the DOJ has said it hasn’t officially finished its investigation, either, and it’s going to keep going regardless of what Google does. Google obviously has a different opinion of where things stand. Now the company just has to hope it hasn’t lowered its chances of approval.