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Google won’t touch data for a decade if ACCC approves deal

  • December 01 2020
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Google won’t touch data for a decade if ACCC approves deal

By Cameron Micallef
December 01 2020

The ACCC is seeking feedback on whether Google will use health data obtained by Fitbit to target ads to consumers, after the tech giant announced a purchase of the wearable devices company.

Google won’t touch data for a decade if ACCC approves deal

Google won’t touch data for a decade if ACCC approves deal

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  • December 01 2020
  • Share

The ACCC is seeking feedback on whether Google will use health data obtained by Fitbit to target ads to consumers, after the tech giant announced a purchase of the wearable devices company.

Google won’t touch data for a decade if ACCC approves deal

Google has announced a nearly $3 billion ($2.1 billion US) plan to purchase Fitbit a year ago, but the sale has yet to be approved by Australian or European regulators.

Australia’s competition watchdog has raised concerns about enforcing the strict guidelines it set out upon the sale. 

Under the guidelines, the ACCC would require Google to not use certain user data collected through Fitbit or its own wearable devices for Google’s advertising for at least 10 years. 

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They are also expecting Google to 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.

“Our decision to begin consultation should not be interpreted as a signal that the ACCC will ultimately accept the undertaking and approve the transaction,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“Feedback from interested parties will assist us to decide whether the behavioural remedy proposed is capable of addressing our competition concerns regarding this transaction.”

However, a group of leading economists from Monash University found this proposal concerning enough to speak out against it.

Professor Chongwoo Choe, director of the Centre for Global Business (CGB), and associate professor Zhijun Chen, a coordinator for CGB’s Digital Economy Research Network, joined with a number of the world’s top competition economists to prepare an amicus brief to the European Competition Authority in the hope they could raise the alarm on behalf of unsuspecting global consumers.

“Sensitive health data held by Fitbit can be added to users’ personal profile Google aggregates from its other services, such as emails, maps and online searches,” Professor Choe said.

“While Google says it would not use Fitbit data for advertising purposes, this doesn’t rule out Google’s use of this data in other markets, such as healthcare.”

Associate Professor Chen said Google’s bid for Fitbit is consistent with its strategy to expand into healthcare, life sciences and insurance.

“By connecting Fitbit data with user data from Google’s Cloud Healthcare API, Google can build a more comprehensive patient profile and offer more personalised health care,” he said.

Associate Professor Chen says Google’s ambition is to protect its unique data empire, integrate functionalities and monetise information through its expanding digital arms.

This is evidenced through the Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) with a number of its popular free services – Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Chrome and News. Revenue from these platforms wasn’t directly sourced from the sale of advertisements, but through the collection of consumer demographic, interest and location data to better target advertisement placement.

“The Fitbit merger provides the chance for the European Commission and the ACCC to remain a frontrunner in the enforcement and guidance of merger policy in the digital era,” Associate Professor Chen said.

Professor Choe says Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit is not just about a gadget being brought into Google’s ecosystem, but one that involves highly sensitive data that is likely to harm consumers in health insurance, medical services and even labour markets.

“All too often, academics and policymakers look back and lament a failure to intervene more decisively and bemoan their hopeful reliance on remedies that just don’t work,” Professor Choe said.

Google won’t touch data for a decade if ACCC approves deal
Google won’t touch data for a decade if ACCC approves deal
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About the author

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Cameron is a journalist for Momentum Media's nestegg and Smart Property Investment. He enjoys giving Aussies practical financial tips and tricks to help grow their wealth and achieve financial independence. As a self-confessed finance nerd, Cameron enjoys chatting with industry experts and commentators to leverage their insights to grow your portfolio.

About the author

author image
Cameron Micallef

Cameron is a journalist for Momentum Media's nestegg and Smart Property Investment. He enjoys giving Aussies practical financial tips and tricks to help grow their wealth and achieve financial independence. As a self-confessed finance nerd, Cameron enjoys chatting with industry experts and commentators to leverage their insights to grow your portfolio.

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