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Google has completed its acquisition of Fitbit
by João Carrasqueira
Google has announced that its acquisition of Fitbit has been completed as of today. The Mountain View giant initially announced its plans to buy the wearable manufacturer in November 2019, but it had to face some regulatory hurdles.
The last, and potentially largest, one was approval from the European Commission in the European Union. The organization announced about a month ago that it had determined that the deal was not a threat to competition, thanks to a series of commitments made by Google. The company will have to continue to allow third-party wearables to have access to all of the same Android APIs as its own devices, including not only APIs already implemented, but any additions made for the next ten years.
Google also reiterated that the acquisition is focused on Fitbit devices, not its data. Part of its commitment to the EU included storing Fitbit user data in a "data silo" of sorts, isolated from any data Google can use for advertising. Additionally, Fitbit data can only be used by other Google services with the user's explicit consent. Fitbit users will also still be able to connect to third-party services they may be used to.
Fitbit CEO James Park also released a statement regarding the acquisition, reaffirming that the deal will allow the company to "innovate faster, provide more choices, and make even better products". For now, no new devices have been announced, but we can probably expect to see Google try to reinvigorate its wearable platform, Wear OS, in the future.
European Commission approves Google's acquisition of Fitbit
by João Carrasqueira
Google's acquisition of fitness smartwatch manufacturer Fitbit has been approved by the European Commission, the regulator announced today. The Commission says that the approval of the deal is dependent on Google's full compliance with the commitments it made in order to protect customers and allow competition to thrive.
The acquisition was announced by Google over a year ago, and the European Commission began investigating the deal in August 2020. The investigation was concerned with how Google would use data from Fitbit users, especially in regards to advertising, as well as whether the search giant would be able to use the synergy between smartphones and smartwatches to degrade the experience for other wearable manufacturers. Following the investigations and Google's commitments, the Commission believes the acquisition doesn't pose a threat to competition.
Margrethe Vestager, head of competition policy for the European Commission, said:
The commitments made by Google cover three major areas: ads, Web API access, and Android APIs. For ads, Google has promised not to use the health and fitness data of FitBit users in the European Economic Area (EEA) for advertising purposes, which includes data from sensors such as GPS. It will also maintain this data stored in a "silo" which separates Fitbit's data from the data Google uses for advertising. Additionally, usage of this data by other Google services will be subject to consent, with Google offering an "effective choice" to allow or deny such usage.
In regards to Android APIs, Google will keep providing OEMs with free APIs to connect wearable devices to use Android smartphones and use all the core features smartwatches typically use, such as Bluetooth connectivity and the ability to use GPS data from the phone. This also covers any future APIs Google adds to Android, and Google can't circumvent the rules by duplicating these features outside the Android Open Source Project, since any future improvements need to be available in open-source code for Fitbit competitors.
On top of that, any APIs available to Android app developers, including those that are part of Google Mobile Services, also have to be available to wearable manufacturers. Additionally, Google can't degrade the experience for these users by showing warnings or errors that discriminate against third-party wearable devices, or by imposing any special conditions on their app's access to the Play Store.
Finally, regarding the Web API access, Google has to continue to allow third-party services to access Fitbit health and fitness data through the Fitbit Web API without charging for it.
The commitments are valid for the next ten years, though the Commission has the option to extend them by up to another ten if justified to do so. Either way, the approval is good news for Google, which will finally be able to move forward with the acquisition and finally make a mark on the wearable market, where Wear OS has failed to take off.
By Usama Jawad96
ACCC soliciting feedback regarding Google's acquisition of Fitbit
by Usama Jawad
Back in November 2019, much to everyone's surprise, Google announced that it is buying wearable manufacturer Fitbit in a deal valued at $2.1 billion. Since then, this transaction has gone through multiple phases including a probe from the European Commission regarding antitrust concerns. Despite this hurdle, Google is optimistic of completing the purchase by the end of this year.
Now, regulatory authorities such as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) are also looking into the deal.
As spotted by ZDNet, the Australian watchdog has published draft undertakings submitted by Google and is now soliciting feedback from interested parties among the general public. The undertaking - which can be enforced by the court - restricts Google from utilizing user data harvested from Fitbit and future wearables developed by the company for its own advertising purposes for 10 years. This time frame could be extended by another 10 years if the ACCC believes it to be necessary. That said, Google also has to provide certain user data to third-party health apps and ensure their interoperability with Android handsets for the next 10 years.
ACCC chairman Rod Sims went on to say that:
The undertaking is meant to restrict potential anti-competitive behaviour from Google, and to stop it from utilizing user data gained from this acquisition to enhance its targeted advertising capabilities. The ACCC is soliciting feedback about the undertaking from interested parties until December 9, 2020.
Source: ACCC via ZDNet
By Abhay V
Fitbit OS 5.1 brings Google Assistant to the Versa 3 and Sense smartwatches
by Abhay Venkatesh
Fitbit is rolling out a new update to its Sense and Versa 3 smartwatches launched earlier this year, bumping up the OS to version 5.1. The update brings a bunch of new features, including the promised addition of Google Assistant to the smartwatches, joining Amazon’s Alexa on the device. The firm is also adding the ability to track blood oxygen saturation (SpO2) without using a dedicated clock face – at least for premium users.
The improvements to SpO2 tracking also include the option to track oxygen saturation during sleep and check the average saturation levels in the Fitbit app. For users of the free tier, Fitbit says it will be adding seven new SpO2 watch faces to the app gallery by the end of the year. The company adds that it has seen over one million downloads of the SpO2 clockface, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the importance of keeping a track of blood oxygen levels.
The addition of the Google Assistant allows users to control linked smart home devices, start specific workouts, set timers, and more. The Assistant is rolling out to users in the U.S. first, with availability for users in Australia, Canada, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, and the U.K. in English planned for later in the year.
The software update also brings a few new features related to audio. Alexa can now respond to commands in an audible fashion through the built-in speaker. The smartwatches can also let users take phone calls via Bluetooth, change phone volume through the wearables, and even reply to text via speech-to-text. Fitbit will be adding audible replies for the Google Assistant in the first half of 2021.
Fitbit OS 5.1 starts rolling today to the Fitbit Sense and Fitbit Versa 3 smartwatches. There is no information yet on when the update will roll out to older devices.
By Ather Fawaz
Google expects to complete Fitbit acquisition this year despite antitrust concerns
by Ather Fawaz
Last year in November, Google announced its plans to acquire Fitbit, one of the most popular wearable manufacturers in the world, for $2.1 billion. Historically, Google's Wear OS has struggled to take off. With the Fitbit-Google merger, the plan was to develop and improve the Wear OS ecosystem, potentially allowing Google to make its own wearable hardware in the future. For Fitbit, the merger feels like a necessity to stay relevant like in its early days, as its devices have been falling behind in terms of market share in recent years.
However, the Alphabet-owned company, and by extension, its acquisition hopes of Fitbit, have faced criticism and regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. and Europe for abusing antitrust laws. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice sued Google's parent company Alphabet for the same.
Notwithstanding the status quo, Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat said the company anticipates its bid for Fitbit will be completed this year. In an interview with Bloomberg, Porat said, “We do still expect we are going to receive the necessary regulatory approvals to hopefully complete the transaction before the end of this year. But the time frame may extend beyond that.”
Corroborating this, European lawmakers were also given a deadline extension to pass a verdict on the acquisition. While the new deadline is January 8, next year, approval may well be in sight now. How the deal pans out from here, remains to be seen.