Human rights NGO, Amnesty International, wrote to the EU competition authority and asked Google Acquisition of the portable manufacturer Fitbit should be blocked – unless sensible safety precautions can be taken.
The tech giant announced its intention to raise $ 2.1 billion to acquire Fitbit a year ago, but has yet to receive regulatory approval for the agreement in the European Union.
In a letter to the bloc's competition director Margrethe Vestager, Amnesty wrote: “The Commission must ensure that the merger does not proceed unless the two companies can demonstrate that they have adequately addressed human rights risks and implemented them strongly and sensibly Protective measures that prevent and reduce these risks in the future. "
The letter asks the Commission to respond to an earlier request by a coalition of civil society groups, which also raises concerns about the pooling of "minimum remedies" that regulators must guarantee before any approval.
In a report last year, the NGO attacked the business model of Google and Facebook, arguing that the “surveillance giants” enable human rights violations “at the population level”.
Amnesty is now warning that as a result of this surveillance-based business model, Google will be “incentivized to merge and aggregate data across its various platforms”.
“Google’s business model is an incentive for the company to continuously search for more data about more people in the online and physical world. The merger with Fitbit is a clear example of this expansive approach to data extraction that allows the company to expand its data collection to the health and wearables sectors, ”it writes. "The extent to which Google's business model encroaches on our personal lives is an unprecedented invasion of our privacy, and it has indeed undermined the very essence of privacy."
We asked the Commission and Google for a response to Amnesty's letter. To update: A commission spokesman confirmed he had received the letter and said he would reply in due course.
Google's plan to gobble up Fitbit and its health data has stalled as EU regulators address competition concerns. Decided to open an in-depth investigation in August, Vestager said it wanted to make sure the deal doesn't distort competition by further cementing Google's dominance in the online advertising market.
The Commission has also raised concerns about the risk of Google excluding other wearable device manufacturers from its Android mobile ecosystem.
However, concerns about Google's plan to gobble up Fitbit reach outweigh the risk that the market will build more muscle if the deal hits.
Put simply, dropping sensitive health data into the hands of an advertising giant is a garbage fire.
Amnesty International is only the latest rights watcher to call for the merger to be blocked. Data protection campaign groups and the EU's own data protection advisor have been warning for months that the technology giant is devouring sensitive health data.
The Commission's decision to look into the acquisition rather than end it with a cursory glance has led Google to make a number of concessions to clarify it – including a promise not to use Fitbit data for ad targeting and To guarantee support for other manufacturers of wearables for Android.
In its letter, Amnesty argues that the "safeguards" offered by Google are insufficient.
"The company's previous privacy practices further increases the need for tough protections," it warns, citing examples like Google combining data from the DoubleClick advertising network after acquiring that company with personal data collected from its other platforms were.
"The European Data Protection Board has recognized the risks of the merger and has determined that Google's" combination and accumulation of sensitive personal data "could pose a" high risk "to privacy and data protection rights," he added.
Using algorithms fed with personal data to profile Internet users in order to predict their behavior not only undermines people's privacy but also undermines what Amnesty describes as "the critical principle that all people should should enjoy equal access to their human rights ".
“This risk is increased when profiling is used in contexts that directly affect people's economic, social and cultural rights, such as social and cultural rights. For example, the right to health, where predictions about their health may treat people unequally and, as such, need to be considered in the context of health and fitness data, ”it suggests.
"This power of platforms has not only exacerbated and amplified their rights impact, but also created a situation where it is very difficult to hold companies accountable or to give those affected access to an effective remedy," added Amnesty while large tech companies have faced a number of No one has been able to derail what he calls the "fundamental drivers of the surveillance-based business model" around the world.
So far, the Commission has taken the time to look into the matter in depth.
A number of expansions mean that a decision to approve the merger between Google and Fitbit may not be made until early 2021. We do know, however, that the bloc's national competition authorities will meet in early December to discuss the merger, so a decision could possibly be made before the end of the year.
According to the EU Merger Act, the College of Commissions makes the final decision – with the obligation to "take into account as much as possible" the opinion of the Member State Advisory Committee (although this is not legally binding).
So it is ultimately up to Brussels to decide whether Google Fitbit lights up green.
In recent years, competition boss Vestager, who is also EPP for the Commission's digital strategy, has said she is in favor of stricter regulation as a tool to ensure companies comply with EU rules rather than blocking market access or completely blocking certain practices to forbid.
It has also spoken out against the disintegration of tech giants, and has re-advocated putting controls in place over how they can use data to rebalance digital markets.
To date, the Commission has never blocked a tech-digital merger (in telecom, where it stepped in in 2016 to block Hutchison's proposed acquisition of Telefonica UK) despite burning its fingers at Big Tech's misleading records – and also to take into account their own reputation, to reach for the usual stamp above.
At the same time, EU lawmakers are working on a proposal for an ex-ante regulation to dispel competition concerns in the digital markets, which would impose specific rules and obligations on dominant players like Google – again in areas such as data use and data access.
This plan is due to be presented early next month. This is another factor that may help delay the Commission's Google Fitbit decision.