Google calls Fitbit acquisition complete despite ongoing DOJ review

Dive Brief:

  • Google on Thursday said its acquisition of wearables giant Fitbit was complete, despite the fact that the $2.1 billion deal has yet to receive approval from the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • The news follows the European Union’s approval of the deal late last year, after Google committed not to use any health data collected by Fitbit for ad-targeting purposes, and the clock ran out on the DOJ’s investigation period.
  • The acquisition was originally expected to close last year, but was delayed amid widespread data privacy concerns. With it, Google takes on a line of health and fitness devices to rival competitors like Apple and Samsung.

Dive Insight:

In a statement Thursday, Google’s hardware chief Rick Osterloh said the deal was “about devices, not data,” and that Google pledged not to use Fitbit users’ health and wellness information for Google’s ad tracking. The deal also won’t affect how any non-Fitbit trackers work with Google Android products or how Fitbit works with non-Google companies. Fitbit, which has 29 million active users, said its products will continue to work across both Android and iOS.

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,” Fitbit CEO James Park said in a Thursday statement.

Hangups around data collection have dogged the deal since it was announced in November 2019. Late last year, EU regulators announced approval after wrapping up an investigation begun in August. Regulators imposed a number of stipulations around the deal, however, including that Google can’t use Fitbit data from EU users for ad targeting, and users must be able to opt-out of sharing their information with other Google services.

Those guardrails will apply to Fitbit users globally, Google said.

However, regulators in the U.S. and Australia have yet to formally approve the acquisition. The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, which had serious concerns about data privacy and anticompetitive effects from the merger, is still investigating the deal and said it will arrive at a decision by mid-March this year.

The DOJ also said its investigation on the snap-up was pending, and that it hadn’t reached a conclusion before Google’s announcement Thursday morning, in a statement shared with the New York Times and other media.

“The Antitrust Division’s investigation of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit remains ongoing. Although the Division has not reached a final decision about whether to pursue an enforcement action, the Division continues to investigate whether Google’s acquisition of Fitbit may harm competition and consumers in the United States,” DOJ said.

Google closed the deal because the DOJ’s 14-month investigation period expired without any objection, a spokesperson told Healthcare Dive. However, the DOJ could still sue to unwind the acquisition.

Wearables manufacturers have been testing their devices’ efficacy beyond simple fitness tracking, and have been foraying more into health and wellness capabilities.

For example, Fitbit’s latest smartwatch released last year includes an electrocardiogram app to track heart rhythm and flag signs of atrial fibrillation, a capability it received regulatory clearance for in September. The company is also trialing its devices as early symptom detectors for infectious diseases, including COVID-19.