The U.S. Justice Department is reportedly planning to review plans by Alphabet-owned Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) to buy fitness tracker maker Fitbit Inc. (NYSE: FIT) over possible antitrust issues. The $2.1 billion deal, announced on Nov. 1, has made privacy advocates wary that the acquisition could give Google access to a wealth of health data on Fitbit’s users. DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim suggested shortly after the merger was revealed that data and privacy could become big anticompetition concerns.
Nonprofits including the Open Markets Institute, Public Citizen, the Center for Digital Democracy, and Electronic Privacy Information Center have all urged U.S. antitrust authorities to block Google from taking over Fitbit. They want antitrust enforcers to block the deal on the grounds that it will give Google even more data about American consumers. They are skeptical of promises by the company that it would never sell Fitbit data.
Google, as well as its subsidiaries like YouTube, have repeatedly been fined for not honoring user privacy promises. Google recently partnered with health systems company Ascension on “Project Nightingale,” which allowed Google to access significant, non-anonymized health data on possibly tens of millions of Ascension patients without notifying the patients or doctors involved. There is now a federal inquiry into whether Project Nightingale violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Antitrust investigations are not uncommon in the tech industry. Big tech companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Apple are facing numerous antitrust probes by the federal government, state attorneys general, and congress. The Department of Justice Antitrust Division has already started a broader federal review of the tech industry. Attorney General Bill Barr recently said that he hopes the tech probe will be completed next year.