The European Commission finally approved Google’s acquisition of Fitbit yesterday, adding some conditions intended to protect user privacy and competition, although campaigners are disappointed in the decision.
The Commission has been mulling the $2.1bn acquisition of the fitness monitoring giant for several months, as distrust over Google’s handling of data and alleged anti-competitive practices is high in the region.
In February, the advisory European Data Protection Board raised concerns about the possibility of the tech giant accessing health and fitness data on tens of millions of users.
“There are concerns that the possible further combination and accumulation of sensitive personal data regarding people in Europe by a major tech company could entail a high level of risk to the fundamental rights to privacy and to the protection of personal data,” it noted.
However, the Commission has stipulated that Google cannot use any Fitbit data to power its advertising business and will have to store the latter in a “data silo” for 10 years, with the option of extending it for another decade.
“The Commission’s investigation found that Google will have to ensure compliance with the provisions and principles of the GDPR, which provides that the processing of personal data concerning health shall be prohibited, unless the person has given explicit consent,” it also noted.
However, Privacy International said it was disappointed at the outcome, arguing that it will further strengthen Google’s capacity to exploit user data.
It argued that any commitments from the tech titan would likely fail to be implemented in a way that upholds users’ privacy rights. In particular, the review failed because it didn’t consider any implications for the region’s digital healthcare sector and markets, which Google could go on to dominate, the rights group said.
“Nothing seems to prevent Google from further enriching their massive data troves with vast quantities of sensitive health data and potentially exploiting our data in ways that go beyond digital advertising markets,” argued Privacy International legal officer, Ioannis Kouvakas.
“Google’s latest leap forward is going to be game-changing in all the wrong ways. Enabling any company, through acquisition and merger, to embed itself so deeply into so many aspects of our lives, is deeply troubling.”