Google’s SVP of Devices and Services Rick Osterloh published a post on the company’s Keyword blog today, reminding everyone that Google would very much like to buy Fitbit. Which we already knew, and which doesn’t really include any new information. In fact, Google doesn’t seem to want to talk about Fitbit much at all: the post is mostly about Europe.
See, the European Commission (the legislative body of the EU) tends to react poorly to the near-constant mergers and acquisitions among big tech firms, especially those in the US. So much so that the EC is going to start an investigation into whether a potential sale of Fitbit to Google might result in Google using all that personal health data to boost its advertising business. The EU’s competition investigation is slated to last for four months.
Osterloh’s post appears targeted to dissuade those investigators, claiming that there’s healthy competition among Fitbit’s peers, including Samsung, Huawei, Xiaomi, Garmin, and the 800-pound gorilla of the wearable market, the Apple Watch. (Google also mentioned Fossil, but they use Google’s Android-based Wear, so…okay?) Osterloh says that “this deal is about devices, not data,” and assures the Commission that Google “will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move or delete their data.”
Pointedly, he didn’t say anything about advertising, the main focus of the competition investigation. Google doesn’t have the best track record in Europe in that arena. Even a few regulators in the US aren’t thrilled at the idea.
The EC’s investigation is a big deal. Google’s wearable division is in trouble as consumers grow weary of Wear, and this could cut off access to the European market for a revitalized lineup of Fitbit-powered devices. A full block of the Fitbit acquisition doesn’t seem like the most likely outcome—the EC tends to go for concessions and agreements rather than outright bans. But in a market this fluid and crucial, every week of delay is a week wasted.