Google's Fitbit acquisition could face DOJ antitrust probe

The agency is concerned about the search giant's access to consumers' health data.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Google faces scrutiny over its Fitbit acquisition.

Angela Lang/CNET

Google's $2.1 billion acquisition of Fitbit, the fitness tracker pioneer, will face antitrust scrutiny from the US Department of Justice, according to a report by the New York Post on Tuesday. 

The agency is concerned about consumer data, especially health information, that Google could access through the Fitbit buyout. Google's mergers have historically been reviewed by the Federal Trade Commission, the other US agency in charge of antitrust oversight. But since the Justice Department is undergoing a broader probe of Google, the agency will also look into the Fitbit deal, said the Post. 

Reached for comment, a Google spokesman pointed to a statement by hardware chief Rick Osterloh when the company announced the acquisition last month. "Similar to our other products, with wearables, we will be transparent about the data we collect and why," Osterloh wrote. "We will never sell personal information to anyone. Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data."

The Justice Department didn't return a request for comment.

The news comes as Google already faces intense antitrust scrutiny. Aside from the broader probe by the Justice Department, Google is also embroiled in a separate investigation by attorneys general from 48 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. They're looking into Google's potentially monopolistic practices when it comes to digital advertising and search results. 

Google has faced blowback for other health care projects. The company was criticized last month for its deal with Ascension, the second largest health care system in the US. The initiative collects patient information from millions of Americans, including data on lab results, diagnoses and hospitalization records that include patient names and birthdates. The project has spurred an inquiry by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Google has previously stoked controversy for its handling of medical data. Two years ago, Google, the University of Chicago and an affiliated medical center struck a partnership that allowed the search giant to use patient data and health records in an attempt to improve predictive analysis. 

But in July, the search giant, the university and the medical center were hit with a lawsuit after the medical center allegedly shared records with Google without stripping away identifiable information. That data included doctors' notes and date stamps for "hundreds of thousands" of patients. At the time, Google said it acted in accordance with the law. The University of Chicago said the claims were "without merit."