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Google’s Fitbit Deal Needs Close Scrutiny, Privacy Groups Warn

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 7/2/2020 David McLaughlin and Aoife White
a hand holding a remote control: An attendant holds a Fitbit Inc. Ionic smartwatch while talking to a visitor at the Wearable Expo in Tokyo, Japan. © Bloomberg An attendant holds a Fitbit Inc. Ionic smartwatch while talking to a visitor at the Wearable Expo in Tokyo, Japan.

(Bloomberg) -- The takeover of fitness tracker Fitbit Inc. by Alphabet Inc.’s Google should get close scrutiny from global regulators because it would allow Google to strengthen its already dominant position in digital markets, privacy and consumer groups said.

A coalition of 20 organizations raised their concerns Thursday in a statement sent to antitrust authorities in seven jurisdictions, including the U.S. and the European Union, which is set to rule on the deal later this month or extend its review.

“This will be a test case for how regulators address the immense power the tech giants exert over the digital economy and their ability to expand their ecosystems unchecked,” the groups said.

The EU has a July 20 deadline to rule on the $2.1 billion deal, which it can extend by four months if it sees antitrust issues that need more scrutiny. The Justice Department is also investigating, while Australia’s merger authority flagged preliminary concerns last month over Google’s access to health data.

Google said in a statement on Wednesday night that “this deal is about devices, not data. The wearables space is highly crowded, and we believe the combination of Google and Fitbit’s hardware efforts will increase competition in the sector, benefiting consumers and making the next generation of devices better and more affordable.”

Earlier: Google Antitrust Suit Being Drafted by Justice Department

Google’s plan to buy Fitbit sparked antitrust and privacy concerns as soon as it was announced in November, as U.S. lawmakers and consumer groups criticized Google for the deal. It came in the midst of a separate antitrust investigation by the Justice Department into whether Google illegally monopolized digital advertising markets.

In their statement Thursday, the consumer groups warned that Google’s acquisition of Fitbit, which has about 30 million users, could allow it to extend its existing power in digital markets to health care and potentially undermine new competition.

The groups joining the statement include the Omidyar Network, the Open Society European Policy Institute, Privacy International, and the Australian Privacy Foundation. They also sent the statement to regulators in the UK, Canada, Australia, Mexico and Brazil.

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