back to article Consumer orgs ask world's competition watchdogs: Are you really going to let Google walk off with all Fitbit's data?

Twenty consumer and citizen rights groups have published an open letter [PDF] urging regulators to pay closer attention to Google parent Alphabet's planned acquisition of Fitbit. The letter describes the pending purchase as a "game-changer" that will test regulators' resolve to analyse how the vast quantities of health and …

  1. Robert Grant Silver badge

    "User data available to Google has made it so valuable to advertisers that it faces only limited competition."

    Speaking as a non-lawyer, I don't think that's anti-competitive, though. It's only if the position is abused.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      When purchasing a company that is considered to be a top runner in the fitness band industry, so that they can get more info on you which means other companies are unable to do the same, is anti-competitive as it reduces the possibility of a competitive environment as you control all of the large ingress points for that data.

      1. tip pc Silver badge

        Not everyone has a Fitbit, so the data is only useful when considering Fitbit users.

        I’ve always used Garmin fitness / sport products so this purchase should have little impact on me.

        1. Antonius_Prime

          Short-sighted bit of an analogy here?

          "Not everyone has a Fitbit, so the data is only useful when considering Fitbit users.

          I’ve always used Garmin fitness / sport products so this purchase should have little impact on me."

          You could also say:

          "Not everyone's house is on fire, so the data is only useful when considering people who's house caught fire.

          I’ve always used Hotels so this should have little impact on me."

          It may not impact you, but there's a raft of others it will impact. And it may impact you later on, indirectly.

  2. getHandle

    Depends

    If they reverse the trend of every update to the Fitbit app causing flakier connections, adding pointless cruft and advertising services I don't want, then I say bring it on!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Depends

      "......advertising services........"

      Erm, this is Google.

    2. Ben Tasker Silver badge

      Re: Depends

      > every update to the Fitbit app causing flakier connections, adding pointless cruft and advertising services I don't want

      No, they'll bring more of that.

      But, good news! the end is in sight.... after all, Google have a habit of axing support for things they've brought on board, so within a couple of years they probably won't be pushing fitbit updates anyway

    3. AndersH

      Re: Depends

      Agreed. I stopped wearing my FitBit for this reason. If every time I want to go for a run I have to open the FitBit app to ensure it definitely tracks, then I can use any app (e.g. Strava) and wear whatever watch I fancy. Getting a silent alarm to set on the FitBit was also a rigmarole of syncing multiple times.

  3. Dr. Vagmeister

    Alternative Issue....

    I have a Garmin product with separate heart rate monitor, purchased years ago, and i thought i would try it out.

    Garmin, and it seems many other manufacturers, force you to use their software which is internet based only, for storage of the data on their servers.

    I NEVER want to store MY data on some other entities servers.

    The letter misses the point in this regard.

    The issue should be that any product/device MUST allow the owner/user to use it without the requirement for ANY internet connection or service.

    Luckily, after a lot of searching i located the Garmin Ant Agent software (on a 3rd party website - which is risky) to download the workout, and used the Golden Cheetah application to view my results.

    Since website after website is hacked, it is immediately obvious that every device MUST allow local only storage, and as per purchasing goods, a GUEST login where your card details are not stored, must be provided by every website too.

    Then at least people have the option of storing their data locally only.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Alternative Issue....

      And once that happens, I'll fly my pig to the moon.

      Shame too, because I wholly agree--sell the product, not the consumer.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Alternative Issue....

      True. This is one of the reason I didn't go WithThings.

      But there are exceptions: my digital scales from Soehnle has an online storage option but the default is on the device with the optiom to sync to my phone. I think the same is true for their other devices but I only really want to know how fat I am…

      1. Snake Silver badge

        Re: Alternative Issue, Soehnle

        Can I ask you WHY you felt it necessary to purchase a cloud-connected SCALE in that first place???!!

        Really. Are you so automaton that you can't bother to remember your own weight and need an app to do it for you?

        1. A K Stiles Silver badge

          Re: Alternative Issue, Soehnle

          Weirdly, reading Charlie's comment, I got the impression that's exactly what they intended to do and the whole 'connected-ness' of the scales was there but entirely extraneous to their requirements?

          Isn't language wonderful where the same set of words can have completely different senses to the reader when removed from any sense of intonation...

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Alternative Issue, Soehnle

          Nearly all digital scales now are "online", which I don't want.

          The app is good because it allows me to see changes in weight over time, a couple of years now.

    3. BenDwire Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Alternative Issue....

      I'm sure many people will agree with you, but only those of us that are older / greyer / longer in the tooth / have no teeth left.

      People simply don't want to bother with local storage. It's too difficult for them, and most youngsters don't even know how to open stuff that isn't in the cloud. Even an accountant friend of mine would rather trust his data to a paid Dropbox account than spend less money keeping it in a box at home.

      I still buy CDs and DVDs which I consider to be an offline backup that I can pass onto my kids, especially as it appears than many classics are being "revised" or "no platformed" in case they offend future generations. George Orwell was meant to be a warning, not a blueprint for society.

    4. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Alternative Issue....

      "any product/device MUST allow the owner/user to use it without the requirement for ANY internet connection or service"

      That's an excellent ideal, but unfortunately the only real commercial advantage is in the data. Mostly the hardware is sold at break even so they can get at the data stream where the profit lies.

    5. tip pc Silver badge

      Re: Alternative Issue....

      I can use all my Garmin devices without connecting to any cloud.

      I do connect to the cloud so I can upload to useful services like Strava, Apple health etc etc.

      I find it useful to use these systems but I don’t have to.

      Not much point logging my activities if I don’t use facilities to do things with the data. I guess I could log locally but it’s pretty useless for sharing routes or achieving kom’s if it’s all just sat on my pc.

      I guess cloud usage is a selling point for me, I accept its. It for you.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Isn't it time for Google to face the Anti-trust strongarm squad?

    Then make sure that Google gets broken up.

    Follow up with FaceBook and Amazon.

    They all know more about us than we can remember ourselves. They can't be allowed to get even stronger.

    Posting AC for all the good it will do. Their AI systems will know who I am within a second of pressing submit. That's how powerful they are.

    Big Brother is real and is here already.

    1. RichardEM

      Re: Isn't it time for Google to face the Anti-trust strongarm squad?

      The problem with breaking up many of the American companies that NOW are the big persons on the block.

      Some time in the future, perhaps not that far away, the companies dominating the same space will be Chinese controlled by a government that believes that they have the RIGHT if not the RESPONSIBILITY to know all and control all. Just look at what they are doing to Hong Kong.

      1. Pier Reviewer

        Re: Isn't it time for Google to face the Anti-trust strongarm squad?

        Ahh, so they’re protecting us from from the reds under the bed? Thanks for pointing out who we need to be scared of. I’m glad corporate America can protect us from those scary reds.

        Out of interest, what extra harm would a Chinese company having all this information cause vs the status quo?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Isn't it time for Google to face the Anti-trust strongarm squad?

          "Out of interest, what extra harm would a Chinese company having all this information cause vs the status quo?"

          American companies wouldn't have exclusive "rights" to our data.

    2. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      Re: Isn't it time for Google to face the Anti-trust strongarm squad?

      I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating. In the US, anti-trust is fundamentally a political matter.

      In order to get the attention of the anti-trust authorities, you have to get into a position that you dominate a market. The authorities then have to determine that you are operating the monopoly "in restraint of trade"--that is, "abusing" your monopoly for some definition or the other. BUT--our constitution provides for monopolies! Specifically, inventors are guaranteed some sort of limited-time monopolies on their inventions. (This is a REALLY good thing, by the way, just subject to abuse.)

      However, by the time you get to the point that an industry is important enough to the economy that a monopoly in it can be "in restraint of trade", the economic implications of actually doing anything about the situation can be even worse than what the monopolist is doing. The decision to proceed, therefore, is fundamentally a political one.

      So...AT&T operated a monopoly on telephone services for generations. And while they were not popular, it was hard to see that there was any gain to be had by doing anything about it. The cost of the poles & wires was super high, and you would never have two competing networks that came close to the efficiency of a single network outside the densest urban areas, and it was far from clear that even there, gain was possible.

      Then came the Internet. When AT&T started looking to expand into the Internet, their dominant position at the physical layer became a huge concern, and they were broken up. Remind me, how did that go?

      Of course, IBM operated a monopoly (think Apple in the absence of Microsoft or Linux) for decades. The suit started, but the Reagan administration decided to slow-walk it until IBM was no longer a monopoly.

      Or you could go back to the original trust-busting. Breaking up Standard Oil? Seems to have been a good thing. Breaking up the banks? That went okay--until the Depression, a few years later. Then they had to walk almost all of it back.

      Or you could look at professional sports. Basketball, football, baseball--all run by monopoly organizations. But in the end, it's just entertainment, so--as a political decision--they are excluded from monopoly legislation.

      There are no good answers.

      Now, lets consider Google, Facebook, and Amazon. Each of these companies are hugely dependent upon the network effect for their success. Suppose we break Facebook into two companies, BookFace, and BaceFook. Suppose that we also split the users between them. What happens next? If 80% of someone's contacts are on BookFace, then that is where they will spend almost all of their time. If that means creating a new account, they will do that. And what about the other 20% of contacts? What if THEY want to talk to that person?

      There is a real social benefit for keeping these companies together. The "obvious" solution is to highly regulate them. Except--let's talk about regulatory capture.

      There. Are. No. Good. Answers.

    3. DS999

      How do you break up Google?

      It basically makes all its money from ads, the other parts of the company that make money are small potatoes compared to that, and balanced by all the other parts that lose money.

      The advertising business relies on stuff like search, Android and so on to feed it a bunch of data so it can target ads, if those parts were broken up to another company either 'Google Search Inc.' and 'Android Inc.' have to begin directly selling data to 'Google Ads Inc.' which is even worse than the current situation privacy-wise. If you forced those parts to buy ads from other companies, and the ad company to do business buying data from other sources I guess you could improve competition. But such a structure would run afoul of the GDPR.

  5. ratfox Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Does FitBit data even register compared to how much data Google already has? There's way more Android phones than fitbits...

    1. Claptrap314 Silver badge

      The value of each bit of data depends on how many other bits of data it is associated with. Adding the FitBit data to Google increases the value of ALL of Google's existing data.

      So, yes. That is, after all, why Google is risking a $100 million penalty in case the deal fails.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Weasel words

    "Throughout this process we have been clear about our commitment not to use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google ads and our responsibility to provide people with choice and control with their data."

    So they promise not to use Fitbit data advertising Google - but what about using that data to advertise other products and services?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Weasel words

      I expect that they meant "Google Ads", their advertising product, not adverts about Google itself.

      But nevertheless, I suspect they still mean something like "We will not use Fitbit health and wellness data for Google Ads directly, but we will add it to the mega-silo of data associated with your Google Account (in order to provide you with a Better Experience, yadda, yadda), and we will use the entirety of that data for whatever evil purpose we desire...".

  7. SinceYouAsked

    I don't trust Google and I don't trust the Government and I don't trust cybercriminals.

    Sorry if I was reduntant.

    But they all share data amoug "themselves" and between themselves.

    Good grief, Google is already harvesting data from medical records for "reseach" purposes.

    I'm looking to fund an DNS, VPN, and search engine with no memory I'd pay $30/month to screw them all over.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: I don't trust Google and I don't trust the Government and I don't trust cybercriminals.

      Cloudflare 1.1.1.1

      ProtonVPN

      StartPage.

      You're welcome

  8. doublelayer Silver badge

    we do not sell personal information to anyone

    "we do not sell personal information to anyone."

    Well, that's technically correct. You don't sell the information. You sell the ability to market to people based on the information in such a detailed way that people can access chunks of that information by paying you. Someone seems to have been paying attention during PR classes. Really helps spice things up from all those people who try to make the technically correct but misleading statement but either make it too obvious what they're doing or state something incorrect by mistake. I wonder if this turn of phrase has been recently adopted because of that "Don't sell my personal information" link that has started appearing on a few sites.

  9. RM Myers Bronze badge
    FAIL

    "...our responsibility to provide people with choice and control with their data."

    When did Google start doing a comedy routine? That was the best joke I've heard this year! Have they started hiring out of work comedians as spokespeople?

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