Google finishes FitBit acquisition and addresses user privacy concerns

  • Google has finished its £1.5bn acquisition of FitBit, more than a year after the tech titan announced its plans to obtain the business, which is renowned for its fitness-tracking watches.

    Global privacy concerns have been Google’s main obstacle in its attainment of FitBit, which monitors and holds users’ data such as their heart rate, the hours they’ve slept and the amount of steps they’ve taken in a day.

    Following a four-month investigation by the European Commission, Google agreed that it would not use individuals’ health or location data for Google ads, and this information will be kept separate from other Google ad data.

    There has been no comment in relation to non-fitness data being used for these purposes, but authorities approved the deal (which was initially made in November 2019) in December 2020. 

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    FitBit CEO, James Park published an open letter to customers, which in it states:

    “The trust of our users will continue to be paramount, and we will maintain strong data privacy and security protections, giving you control of your data and staying transparent about what we collect and why.

    “Google will continue to protect Fitbit users’ privacy and has made a series of binding commitments with global regulators, confirming that Fitbit users’ health and wellness data won’t be used for Google ads and this data will be kept separate from other Google ad data.

    “Google also affirmed it will continue to allow Fitbit users to choose to connect to third party services. That means you’ll still be able to connect your favorite health and wellness apps to your Fitbit account.

    “These and other commitments by Google reinforce why Google is an ideal partner for Fitbit who will continue to put our users first and help further our mission to make everyone in the world healthier.”

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    In a blog, Google said the acquisition "has always been about devices, not data" but the global giant has faced controversy in the healthcare sector before.

    Its DeepMind artificial intelligence team previously gathered data on 1.6m UK patients without telling them, via an app it developed.

    DeepMind – which is a subsidiary of Alphabet, the parent company of Google – promised the information would never be merged with Google’s data, but in 2018 it was integrated into the company’s plans to build an AI-powered assistant for global medical workers.

    BBC News reports that privacy advocates described the move as a "demolition of trust".

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    FitBit usually releases yearly upgrades of its two product lines; smartwatches (such as FitBit Sense and Versa lines) and activity tracker bands (like the Fitbit Charge series).

    14 months ago when Google announced it would be taking over FitBit, its Senior Vice President of Devices and Services, Rick Osterloh said the acquisition was “an opportunity to invest even more in (Google’s) Wear OS as well as introduce Made by Google wearable devices into the market.”

    "Now the deal is done, I expect Google to focus on building new smartwatches which excel in terms of health and fitness tracking," said CCS Insight analyst, Leo Gebbie.

    He added: "Hopefully, Google will use Fitbit's expertise to overhaul the Google Wear OS platform, which has been slipping further and further behind rivals for some time."

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    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

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