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Google’s Fitbit lift strains competition laws says Australian regulator

Worries that wearable and web combo makes for unbeatable diagnostics duo

Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission has flagged “preliminary competition concerns” with Google’s acquisition of wearables-for-fitness-tracking business Fitbit.

The Commission (ACCC) today issued a announcement and Statement of Issues [PDF] that reveal it worries the deal “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.”

The documents argue that Google could use Fitbit to make life harder for companies that use its WearOS and associated service, eventually reducing competition. The ACCC also worries that emerging diagnostic and predictive health services will be far more attractive if they draw on data gathered by wearables, giving a combined Google/Fitbit advantages others would struggle to match.

The commission also considers advertising, an item of concern because it is also probing Google’s power in that field in another inquiry. Today’s ponderings note that while Google has promised Fitbit data won’t be used to fuel ads, that promise is not binding.

The Statement of Issues does note that some of Google’s rivals – especially Apple and Samsung – are big enough and strong enough to fend for themselves. Indeed, Samsung today stole a march on Apple by releasing a blood pressure monitoring app for its South Korean users of its Galaxy Wear Active smartwatch. That device runs Samsung's Tizen OS rather than Google's Wear OS.

The ACCC has sought input on four topics:

  • The extent to which Fitbit’s data is unique and whether or not there are other sources of this data;
  • The extent to which, in the absence of the proposed acquisition, Fitbit (either on its own or in partnership with others) and Google will compete or are likely to compete in the provision of data-related health services and certain ad tech services;
  • The likelihood that other competitors could constrain Google in the provision of data-related health services or certain ad tech services, post-acquisition, and;
  • The likelihood that the acquisition will alter Google’s incentives in relation to providing third party access to products such as Wear OS, Google Maps or the Google Play store.

If this consultation holds true to form, it will likely generate rather spicy submissions. Oracle Australia regularly uses such fora to lash out at Google. The Register therefore has a beady eye on this one. ®

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