Amnesty asks EU to block Google-Fitbit deal over human rights risks


Amnesty International has asked the European Union (EU) competition regulator to block Google’s $2.1 billion acquisition of wearable maker Fitbit citing human rights risks.

In a strongly-worded letter, the human rights NGO said that Google is “incentivized to merge and aggregate data across its different platforms” as a consequence of its surveillance-based business model.

“The Commission must ensure that the merger does not proceed unless the two business enterprises can demonstrate that they have taken adequate account of the human rights risks and implemented strong and meaningful safeguards that prevent and mitigate these risks in the future,” Amnesty said.

For Google, the Fitbit acquisition gives it a toe into the now growing wearable market. This also arms the search engine giant with better capabilities in terms of user experience and software, as well as rich data troves. The deal is being largely seen as the evolution of Google’s Wear OS.

According to Amnesty, Google’s business model incentivizes the company to continuously seek more data on more people across the online world and into the physical world.

“The merger with Fitbit is a clear example of this expansionist approach to data extraction, enabling the company to extend its data collection into the health and wearables sector,” the letter read.

Notwithstanding that Google has committed it “will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads”, the incentive to use Fitbit health data in ways that “threaten human rights demonstrates the need to ensure that any safeguards put in place as a condition of the merger be subject to meaningful and effective oversight”.

Earlier this year, after issuing a warning about potential privacy risks of Google having access to Fitbit’s data, the European Union (EU) regulators asked their rivals whether the deal will disadvantage fitness tracking apps hosted in Google’s Play Store, and “how Google might use the data to profile users for its search and advertising business”.

The US Justice Department and Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission have also raised their concerns over the Google-Fitbit deal. According to Amnesty, Google’s past practice around privacy further heighten the need for strict safeguards.

“The abuse of privacy and other rights has also helped concentrate power and enable Google’s dominance. The accumulation of greater amounts of data enables a company to be better able to train the machine learning models and algorithms which produce behavioral predictions,” the NGO emphasized.


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