Amnesty International warns against Google-Fitbit merger unless human rights are safeguarded

The agency penned a letter to the E.U. Commission explaining what it views as possible issues with the deal.
By Laura Lovett
01:44 pm
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A Google office with logo

Photo by Carsten Koall/Getty Images

Amnesty International is urging the E.U. Commission to halt the much publicized Fitbit-Google merger unless the companies can demonstrate consideration of human rights risks associated with data and surveillance, and the implementation of data safeguards. 

In November of 2019, news broke that Google was set to acquire Fitbit for roughly $2.1 billion. However, the merger is yet to be greenlighted by the E.U. 

“The merger risks further extending the dominance of Google and its surveillance-based business model, the nature and scale of which already represent a systemic threat to human rights. The deal is particularly troubling given the sensitive nature of the health data that Fitbit holds that would be acquired by Google,” Eve Geddie, head of office and advocacy director of the European Institutions Office of Amnesty International, wrote in the letter.

The letter alleges that Google’s business model incentivizes continuous data collection from both online and real-world data. 

“One of our key concerns is how Google’s business model has enabled it to establish dominance over the primary channels through which people connect and engage with the online world, and access and share information online, making them gatekeepers to the 'public square' for much of humanity. The dominance of Google (and Facebook) over core platforms of the Internet poses unique risks for people’s human rights. In this context, the acquisition by Google of a company like Fitbit, a leader in the emerging healthcare and wearables sector, raises red flags,” the letter read. 

WHY IT MATTERS 

If the acquisition goes through this will open up the world of wearables and fitness trackers to Google. It would also mean a new foothold in the consumer-device space. 

While consumer wearables would be a new domain for Google, several of the other tech giants, including Apple and Amazon, have released wearables. 

THE LARGER TREND 

After the merger was announced in 2019, a slew of concerns emerged from government agencies and the public. In February, the European Data Protect Board (EDPB) ordered Google to conduct an assessment of data protection requirements and the implications of the deal. This was followed by an in-depth investigation into the merger by EU Commission in August

In September, Reuters reported that Google was set to win EU antitrust approval after the tech giant offered new concessions. However, the deadline for an EU decision about the merger is now January 8, 2021. 

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