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European Commission approves Google's acquisition of Fitbit

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:

“We can approve the proposed acquisition of Fitbit by Google because the commitments will ensure that the market for wearables and the nascent digital health space will remain open and competitive. The commitments will determine how Google can use the data collected for ad purposes, how interoperability between competing wearables and Android will be safeguarded and how users can continue to share health and fitness data, if they choose to.”

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.

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