Google forks out $2.1bn for Fitbit – and promises not to exploit all that delicious health data to sling ads (honest)

Purchase another sign of mass consolidation by tech giants

Google will pay $2.1bn to acquire Fitbit, the second largest company in the wearables market, inserting itself into a world increasingly dominated by Apple – and continuing the mass consolidation of consumer technology by the Big Three corporations; Amazon being the third party.

Offering $7.35 a share, Google was prepared to pay a 70 percent premium to take control of the company, although the overall valuation is not even twice Fitbit’s annual revenue, serving to illustrate the company’s recent struggles.

It is Google’s fifth largest acquisition, more than it paid for YouTube or Waze back in the day, and illustrates two things: first, that Google is increasingly focused on hardware following its Nest and Motorola acquisitions; and second, that wherever Apple or Amazon go, Google follows.

For years, Apple has been investing heavily in the wearables market with its Apple Watch. Despite an initial jump with its first-generation Watch, the shortcomings of the device meant that Fitbit continued to control a quarter of the market. That changed in 2017 when Chinese competitors and the third version of the Apple Watch entered the market.

This year, Apple has continued to refine its Watch and the fifth version is showing signs of reaching a broader market. At the same time, despite almost single-handedly creating the smart-watch market, Fitbit has declined thanks to slow and lackluster hardware updates and buggy software updates.

Google’s efforts to repeat its approach to the mobile phone market with WearOS took a hit last year when Huawei ditched it in favor of its own home-grown operating system. Google clearly decided it needed to control some hardware in the market and so guarantee a foothold - and a $2bn acquisition of Fitbit was the answer.

And what about the data?

The biggest concern about the acquisition, given Google’s business model, is what the web giant will now do with the vast amounts of personal data it will now acquire.

The biz addressed this point directly in its acquisition announcement. “To get this right, privacy and security are paramount,” its senior VP of devices and services Rick Osterloh said in a blog post: “When you use our products, you’re trusting Google with your information. We understand this is a big responsibility and we work hard to protect your information, put you in control and give you transparency about your data.

“Similar to our other products, with wearables, we will be transparent about the data we collect and why. We will never sell personal information to anyone. Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data.”

This is familiar language and will not alleviate concerns about the use of personal data. While Google will not sell databases of identifiable data, it will gather and analyze it and aim to monetize it as far as possible.

Fitbit users can expect the information from their smart-watches, including location, activity, heart rate, as well as any additional information on things like nutrition, weight, and so on that they input in order to receive recommendations, to be connected to other personal data that Google may hold on them.

That can encompasses everything from your emails (Gmail) to your search results (Google), web activity (Chrome), home activity (Nest) to your location and frequently used apps (Android phones). All that data will then be packaged in 100 different ways and sold to advertisers looking to target specific individuals.

Google’s frequent promises to give users control of their data has also consistently fallen short, with the company misleading consumers in order to retain access to valuable data. For example, if you go into Google setting and turn off an option called “location history” it doesn’t actual turn off the gathering of location data. To do that, you have to go to the "Web and App Activity" setting and "pause" all activity there, even though that setting makes no mention of location data.

Nothing means what you think it does

In addition, even if you hit “pause” on the gathering of your location data, the setting still doesn’t apply to Google’s Maps and Search apps which will continue to track you even when you specifically choose to halt such monitoring. Just this week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission sued Google over this approach saying it had broken consumer laws by misleading Android users about how their location data was collected and used.

In the US, where the laws are weaker and consumer protection regulator, the FTC, takes a far more lenient approach to large corporations, consumers should assume that regardless of what Google says in a blog post, a big incentive for its acquisition of Fitbit is to receive huge amounts of additional personal data to feed into its systems.

Google also has a spotty record on acquisitions. Perhaps the clearest parallel to the Fitbit purchase is the company’s $3.2bn acquisition of Nest. Like Fitbit, Nest was the leading company and brand in its market - smart home technology.

A person wearing a hopefully working Fitbit

We asked for your Fitbit horror stories and, oh wow, did you deliver: Readers sync their teeth into 'junk' gizmos


Over time, Google has slowly subsumed Nest into its systems with largely negative results: there are been growing hardware and software problems as Google attempts to move Nest’s platform into its Google Assistant platform. Google was forced to briefly back down in its effort to force all Nest customers to migrate to a Google account, requiring them to create a Gmail account at the same time, but it has made it plain that it is only a temporary hold.

Fitibit is a little different in that respect in that its customers have been complaining for years about declining quality of its products and software so Google’s inevitable migration to its system will probably result in a better user experience over time.

Looking at the bigger picture, however, the acquisition of Fitbit will only add to arguments by governments and regulators that the Big Three - Google, Apple and Amazon - have too much power and are reducing competition across a whole range of markets.

In the UK, the Labour Party has already written to the competition regulator arguing that the acquisition should be halted until a larger inquiry into Google’s anti-competitive practices is completed.

“I have long been concerned about the data monopolies that dominate our tech market, including Google,” said shadow digital secretary Tom Watson in a statement.

“These companies hold and gather an unprecedented amount of data on users which is then monetised through micro-targeting and advertising to amass huge profits and power. Meanwhile, the digital giants themselves remain unaccountable, unregulated, and see themselves as above the law.” ®

Other stories you might like

  • UK competition watchdog seeks to make mobile browsers, cloud gaming and payments more competitive
    Investigation could help end WebKit monoculture on iOS devices

    The United Kingdom's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Friday said it intends to launch an investigation of Apple's and Google's market power with respect to mobile browsers and cloud gaming, and to take enforcement action against Google for its app store payment practices.

    "When it comes to how people use mobile phones, Apple and Google hold all the cards," said Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, in a statement. "As good as many of their services and products are, their strong grip on mobile ecosystems allows them to shut out competitors, holding back the British tech sector and limiting choice."

    The decision to open a formal investigation follows the CMA's year-long study of the mobile ecosystem. The competition watchdog's findings have been published in a report that concludes Apple and Google have a duopoly that limits competition.

    Continue reading
  • How refactoring code in Safari's WebKit resurrected 'zombie' security bug
    Fixed in 2013, reinstated in 2016, exploited in the wild this year

    A security flaw in Apple's Safari web browser that was patched nine years ago was exploited in the wild again some months ago – a perfect example of a "zombie" vulnerability.

    That's a bug that's been patched, but for whatever reason can be abused all over again on up-to-date systems and devices – or a bug closely related to a patched one.

    In a write-up this month, Maddie Stone, a top researcher on Google's Project Zero team, shared details of a Safari vulnerability that folks realized in January this year was being exploited in the wild. This remote-code-execution flaw could be abused by a specially crafted website, for example, to run spyware on someone's device when viewed in their browser.

    Continue reading
  • Google has more reasons why it doesn't like antitrust law that affects Google
    It'll ruin Gmail, claims web ads giant

    Google has a fresh list of reasons why it opposes tech antitrust legislation making its way through Congress but, like others who've expressed discontent, the ad giant's complaints leave out mention of portions of the proposed law that address said gripes.

    The law bill in question is S.2992, the Senate version of the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (AICOA), which is closer than ever to getting votes in the House and Senate, which could see it advanced to President Biden's desk.

    AICOA prohibits tech companies above a certain size from favoring their own products and services over their competitors. It applies to businesses considered "critical trading partners," meaning the company controls access to a platform through which business users reach their customers. Google, Apple, Amazon, and Meta in one way or another seemingly fall under the scope of this US legislation. 

    Continue reading
  • Makers of ad blockers and browser privacy extensions fear the end is near
    Overhaul of Chrome add-ons set for January, Google says it's for all our own good

    Special report Seven months from now, assuming all goes as planned, Google Chrome will drop support for its legacy extension platform, known as Manifest v2 (Mv2). This is significant if you use a browser extension to, for instance, filter out certain kinds of content and safeguard your privacy.

    Google's Chrome Web Store is supposed to stop accepting Mv2 extension submissions sometime this month. As of January 2023, Chrome will stop running extensions created using Mv2, with limited exceptions for enterprise versions of Chrome operating under corporate policy. And by June 2023, even enterprise versions of Chrome will prevent Mv2 extensions from running.

    The anticipated result will be fewer extensions and less innovation, according to several extension developers.

    Continue reading
  • I was fired for blowing the whistle on cult's status in Google unit, says contractor
    The internet giant, a doomsday religious sect, and a lawsuit in Silicon Valley

    A former Google video producer has sued the internet giant alleging he was unfairly fired for blowing the whistle on a religious sect that had all but taken over his business unit. 

    The lawsuit demands a jury trial and financial restitution for "religious discrimination, wrongful termination, retaliation and related causes of action." It alleges Peter Lubbers, director of the Google Developer Studio (GDS) film group in which 34-year-old plaintiff Kevin Lloyd worked, is not only a member of The Fellowship of Friends, the exec was influential in growing the studio into a team that, in essence, funneled money back to the fellowship.

    In his complaint [PDF], filed in a California Superior Court in Silicon Valley, Lloyd lays down a case that he was fired for expressing concerns over the fellowship's influence at Google, specifically in the GDS. When these concerns were reported to a manager, Lloyd was told to drop the issue or risk losing his job, it is claimed. 

    Continue reading
  • Apple’s M2 chip isn’t a slam dunk, but it does point to the future
    The chip’s GPU and neural engine could overshadow Apple’s concession on CPU performance

    Analysis For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Apple's move to homegrown silicon for Macs, the tech giant has admitted that the new M2 chip isn't quite the slam dunk that its predecessor was when compared to the latest from Apple's former CPU supplier, Intel.

    During its WWDC 2022 keynote Monday, Apple focused its high-level sales pitch for the M2 on claims that the chip is much more power efficient than Intel's latest laptop CPUs. But while doing so, the iPhone maker admitted that Intel has it beat, at least for now, when it comes to CPU performance.

    Apple laid this out clearly during the presentation when Johny Srouji, Apple's senior vice president of hardware technologies, said the M2's eight-core CPU will provide 87 percent of the peak performance of Intel's 12-core Core i7-1260P while using just a quarter of the rival chip's power.

    Continue reading
  • Workers win vote to form first-ever US Apple Store union
    Results set to be ratified by labor board by end of the week

    Workers at an Apple Store in Towson, Maryland have voted to form a union, making them the first of the iGiant's retail staff to do so in the United States.

    Out of 110 eligible voters, 65 employees voted in support of unionization versus 33 who voted against it. The organizing committee, known as the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees (CORE), has now filed to certify the results with America's National Labor Relations Board. Members joining this first-ever US Apple Store union will be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

    "I applaud the courage displayed by CORE members at the Apple store in Towson for achieving this historic victory," IAM's international president Robert Martinez Jr said in a statement on Saturday. "They made a huge sacrifice for thousands of Apple employees across the nation who had all eyes on this election."

    Continue reading
  • End of the road for biz living off free G Suite legacy edition
    Firms accustomed to freebies miffed that web giant's largess doesn't last

    After offering free G Suite apps for more than a decade, Google next week plans to discontinue its legacy service – which hasn't been offered to new customers since 2012 – and force business users to transition to a paid subscription for the service's successor, Google Workspace.

    "For businesses, the G Suite legacy free edition will no longer be available after June 27, 2022," Google explains in its support document. "Your account will be automatically transitioned to a paid Google Workspace subscription where we continue to deliver new capabilities to help businesses transform the way they work."

    Small business owners who have relied on the G Suite legacy free edition aren't thrilled that they will have to pay for Workspace or migrate to a rival like Microsoft, which happens to be actively encouraging defectors. As noted by The New York Times on Monday, the approaching deadline has elicited complaints from small firms that bet on Google's cloud productivity apps in the 2006-2012 period and have enjoyed the lack of billing since then.

    Continue reading
  • Apple dev roundup: Weather data meets privacy, and other good stuff
    No AR/VR glasses but at least RoomPlan will let you make rapid 3D room maps

    WWDC Apple this week at its Worldwide Developer Conference delivered software development kits (SDKs) for beta versions of its iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS 13, tvOS 16, and watchOS 9 platforms.

    For developers sold on seeking permission from Apple to distribute their software and paying a portion of revenue for the privilege, it's a time to celebrate and harken to the message from the mothership.

    While the consumer-facing features in the company's various operating systems consist largely of incremental improvements like aesthetic and workflow enhancements, the developer APIs in the underlying code should prove more significant because they will allow programmers to build apps and functions that weren't previously possible. Many of the new capabilities are touched on in Apple's Platforms State of the Union presentation.

    Continue reading
  • New York to get first right-to-repair law for electronics
    Hey, big Apple, how'd you like them Big Apples?

    Right-to-repair advocates are applauding the passage of New York's Digital Fair Repair Act, which state assembly members approved Friday in a 145–1 vote.

    The law bill, previously green-lit by the state senate in a 49-14 vote, now awaits the expected signature of New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D).

    Assuming the New York bill becomes law as anticipated, it will be the first US state legislation to address the repairability of electronic devices. A week ago, a similar right-to-repair bill died in California due to industry lobbying.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022