Google has said it won’t utilise user data for advertisements for 10 years as part of its acquisition of Fitbit — and the ACCC is seeking comment on this offer.
Google won’t use certain Fitbit data
The announcement came on Monday after Google announced some self-imposed parameters within Australia regarding the purchase of Fitbit. If accepted they will be court enforceable by the ACCC.
These parameters include a mixture of data privacy and third-party usage promises:
- Not use certain user data collected through Fitbit and Google wearables for Google’s advertising purposes for 10 years, with an option for the ACCC to extend this obligation by up to a further 10 years;
- Maintain access for third parties, such as health and fitness apps, to certain user data collected through Fitbit and Google wearable devices for 10 years; and
- Maintain levels of interoperability between third party wearables and Android smartphones for 10 years.
Why has Google made this offer?
News regarding Google’s purchase of Fitbit first broke in November 2019. According to IDC stats from Q1 2019, Fitbit is the fifth biggest wearable company in the market behind Apple, Xiaomi, Huawei and Samsung.
Not only does this put Google is a strong market position, but Fitbit’s decade of health and fitness data would add to the dearth of information Google already has about users.
Unsurprisingly, this was all quite worrying for the Australian consumer watchdog.
“Our concerns are that Google buying Fitbit will allow Google to build an even more comprehensive set of user data, further cementing its position and raising barriers to entry to potential rivals,” ACCC Chair, Rod Sims, said in a back in June, 2020.
“Past acquisitions by Google, of both start-ups and mature companies like Fitbit, have further entrenched Google’s position. The access to user data available to Google has made it so valuable to advertisers that it faces only limited competition.”
Competition is also at play with the Fitbit acquisition
Fair competition is also a concern for the ACCC.
A good proportion of third-party wearable companies utilise Google software, such as WearOS, Google Maps and Google Play. So theoretically, Google could choose to inhibit or reject access to its products in order to increase sales of its own, such as Fitbit devices.
We’ve seen how important these Google products are with the drastic decline in Huawei phone sales in the West due to President Trump’s trade ban.
“Our position is where there is uncertainty, especially surrounding such important markets, the ACCC must thoroughly investigate the potential for an acquisition to stymie future competition. As a competition regulator it is our job to weigh carefully the potential issues concerning data and advertising that may follow transactions such as these,” Sims said in June.
This is why Google has said it would maintain access and levels of interoperability for third party wearables and Android devices… for 10 years anyway.
So what now happens now?
The ACCC is looking for comment around Google’s court enforceable offer regarding user data and third party access.
However, Rod Sims was careful to state that this did not mean the ACCC would definitely accept Google’s proposal.
“The ACCC is seeking feedback from industry and consumers on the long term effectiveness and enforceability of Google’s behavioural undertaking to address the competition concerns raised by its proposed acquisition of Fitbit. The ACCC has not decided whether or not it will ultimately accept any undertaking,” Sims said in a statement.
The ACCC will be accepting submissions regarding the undertaking until December 9, 2020.