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18 Jan 2021

Google's Fitbit acquisition demanded compromise over the use of personal health data
BY Tom Walker

The approval of the Fitbit deal is the final stage of a long journey for Google to gain a foothold on the wellness tech sector

The approval of the Fitbit deal is the final stage of a long journey for Google to gain a foothold on the wellness tech sector
photo: Shutterstock.com/Rohane Hamilton

Google has finally completed a US$2.1bn deal to acquire Fitbit, marking the tech giant's long-awaited entry to the wellness tech market.

The deal was first announced in November 2019, but has taken more than a year to complete.

The acquisition was only approved by the European Union after Google had agreed to make a series of commitments about how it will use Fitbit users' personal health data.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) — which governs and oversees the EU's strict data protection rules, including GDPR — raised concerns over the privacy of Fitbit data.

EDPB's concerns centred on how Google would mine data from Fitbit and combine it with other data it has for users, through a plethora of other Google-owned devices and applications.

According to Rick Osterloh, Google's senior VP of devices and services, the deal was “about devices, not data”.

"Technology can change the way people manage their health and wellness, and that's especially important these days," Osterloh said.

"Your privacy and security are paramount to achieving this and we're committed to protecting your health information and putting you in control of your data.

"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.

"We’ll also maintain access to Android APIs that enable devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches to interoperate with Android smartphones, and we’ll continue to allow Fitbit users to choose to connect to third-party services, so you’ll still be able to sync your favourite health and fitness apps to your Fitbit account.

"These commitments will be implemented globally, so that all consumers can benefit from them. We’ll also continue to work with regulators around the world, so they can be assured that we're living up to these commitments."

The approval is the latest stage of a long journey for Google to gain a foothold on the wellness tech sector.

In August 2018, A number of unconfirmed reports suggested the tech giant was working on an artificial intelligence-based fitness and wellbeing coach.

Then, in January 2019, Google bought a haul of intellectual property from watchmaker Fossil, pouring fuel on rumours that it is working on a flagship smartwatch product.

The acquisition of Fitbit is the next stage in this process – and one which will eventually pave the way for the launch of Google-branded goods onto the market.

Osterloh said: "We’re confident the combination of Fitbit’s leading technology, product expertise and health and wellness innovation with the best of Google’s AI, software and hardware, will drive more competition in wearables and make the next generation of devices better and more affordable."

Fitbit CEO James Park added: "Becoming part of the Google family means we can do even more to inspire and motivate our customers on their journey to better health.

"We’ll be able to innovate faster, provide more choices, and make even better products to support their health and wellness needs.

"On our own, we pushed the bounds of what was possible from the wrist, pioneering step, heart rate, sleep and stress tracking. With access to Google’s incredible resources, knowledge and global platform, the possibilities are truly limitless."

• To see the full list of commitments Google has now agreed to, in order to secure the Fitbit deal, click here.



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