Health Tech, Legal

Google closes Fitbit acquisition — without DOJ approval

Google announced it had closed its planned acquisition of Fitbit on Thursday, even thought the deal is still being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

At long last, Google shared it had closed its planned acquisition of Fitbit. But there’s just one catch: the deal is still being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The company’s explanation for the unusual move was that it had waited long enough.

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“We complied with the DOJ’s extensive review for the past 14 months, and the agreed upon waiting period expired without their objection,” a Google spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. “We continue to be in touch with them and we’re committed to answering any additional questions.”

Google also claimed the deal would increase competition in a crowded wearables market, despite regulators’ concerns about the contrary. For example, given that Google also designs smartphones’ Android operating system, could it limit certain functionalities — such as being able to check email on other wearables?

To assuage regulators, Google said it would continue to license public APIs covering all core functionalities so that other wearables can continue to operate with an Android smartphone.

The company also addressed privacy questions, saying it would not use health data from wearable devices for its advertising business, and would store Fitbit’s user data in a separate “data silo.”

Those promises were enough for the company to get the green light from regulators with the European Commission, but Australian and U.S. regulators are still continuing their investigation of the deal.

Google first announced plans to acquire Fitbit for $2.1 billion in 2019, addressing a hole in the tech giant’s healthcare plans. While the company has developed an operating system for wearable devices, called WearOS, it was primarily used by fashion brands, such as Fossil. It hadn’t made the same strides in healthcare as competitors Fitbit or Apple, which both have FDA-cleared algorithms to detect atrial fibrillation and are using their wearables for virtual clinical trials.

That said, Google is wading into the space. Last month, it rolled out a health research app, with plans to study how respiratory illnesses are transmitted in conjunction with Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. Fitbit, too, has been assessing whether its devices could be used to detect and follow the spread of viral respiratory illnesses.

Photo credit: Fitbit