Google Takeover of Fitbit Will Create New Data Surveillance Juggernaut: Australia On Frontline in Battle of Big Tech

The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology has today endorsed a global statement from citizen and consumers groups, warning of the negative consequences of Google’s proposed takeover of Fitbit.

Fitbit is a market leader in ‘wearable’ technology, collecting user information to build databases based on mobility, location as well as a reach of health data such as heartrate. Wearables like Fitbit’s could in future give companies the details of essentially everything consumers do 24/7 and allow them to feed digital services back to consumers. While users formally consent to this information being collected, that consent is hidden behind complex and expansive legal terms and conditions.

In this context, there is a real prospect of Google using this data to strengthen its already dominant position in digital advertising, as well as moving into areas like health insurance and even diagnostics.

The groups are calling on regulators in Europe, the USA and Australia, to look at the impact of the takeover on data privacy and competition within both the digital and health sectors.

“This will be a test case for how regulators address the immense power the tech giants exert over the digital economy and their ability to expand their ecosystems unchecked,” the joint statement says.

The Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) is currently reviewing the proposed takeover, making it the first jurisdiction to actively scrutinise its impact.

Centre for Responsible Technology director, Peter Lewis, said the ACCC review will be vital in setting the tenor of the global response to the proposed merger.

“Authorities need to closely scrutinise this deal between Google and Fitbit, which is a test case for authorities to address the immense power the tech giants exert over the digital economy. They must ensure narrow commercial interests do not prevail over the broad interests of citizens,” said Peter Lewis, Director of The Australia Institute’s Centre for Responsible Technology.

“We have all seen how previous mergers have consolidated the power of Big Tech in ways that are not always apparent at the point of merger.

“Australia needs a much broader conversation about the use of personal information as a resource for business to ensure technology works in the public interest, and not just the interests of a handful of global corporations.”

A copy of the full statement can be found here.