LONDON – European Union regulators opened an in-depth investigation Tuesday into Google's plan to buy fitness tracking device maker Fitbit.
The EU's executive commission said it was concerned the deal would entrench the U.S. tech giant's position in the online ad market by “increasing the already vast amount of data” the company uses to personalize ads.
“Our investigation aims to ensure that control by Google over data collected through wearable devices as a result of the transaction does not distort competition,” said European Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, who also is the EU's competition commissioner.
Google agreed to buy Fitbit in November for $2.1 billion. Privacy, social justice and consumer groups have called on authorities to block the deal, citing privacy and antitrust concerns.
The EU said the deal could expand Google's “data advantage” and therefore raise barriers for rivals to match Google's online advertising services.
“This deal is about devices, not data,” said Rick Osterloh, Google's senior vice president for devices and services. “We've been clear from the beginning that we will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads,” he wrote in a blog.
The investigation adds more scrutiny of the transaction, which Australia's competition watchdog is also examining. And it underscores the lead role EU authorities have taken in global efforts to regulate the big technology companies.
Vestager has been at the forefront of the movement to rein in the likes of Google and its Silicon Valley rivals. During her first five-year term as competition commissioner, she slapped Google with nearly $10 billion in penalties for multiple antitrust cases involving its Android operating system, advertising business and shopping service.
Critics say big fines failed to change how tech giants behave and have called on regulators to take tougher action.
The EU commission has until Dec. 9 to decide on whether to block or approve the deal.