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Google buying Fitbit raises ‘serious concerns,’ says Senator Mark Warner

Google buying Fitbit raises ‘serious concerns,’ says Senator Mark Warner
[Photo: John Schnobrich/Unsplash]

Tech-savvy Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, came out swinging against Google parent Alphabet’s plan to acquire the health wearables and data company Fitbit. Alphabet may want Fitbit’s technology to extend into the health wearables space.

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Here’s Warner in a statement to Fast Company Monday afternoon:

“Alphabet’s announced acquisition of Fitbit raises serious concerns. Services and products, increasingly dependent on machine learning, rely on user data as the single most important input. But as my bipartisan DASHBOARD Act seeks to address, consumers often are totally in the dark about the value of their data–and all the myriad uses to which it is put.

“As Google seeks to leverage its dominance into new areas, like health care, it’s critically important the competition authorities understand the ways in which control over user data can tip markets–especially new, emerging markets–in favor of dominant incumbents. And in the event that this acquisition is permitted, we need to require disclosures of all the ways Google is exploiting user data for commercial gain–not just in fitness apps or ads, but also the extent to which Google plans to use this sensitive data in health care products.”

The DASHBOARD Act Warner mentions would require tech companies to tell consumers exactly how their personal data is being used and if it’s being sold or loaned to other companies. It would also require them to report the dollar value of the personal data they collect from consumers each year. The bill was sponsored by Warner and Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri.

Alphabet was quick to assure the public and lawmakers when it confirmed the deal that the health data it might collect from Fitbit devices would not be used for advertising purposes.

Warner isn’t the only lawmaker to express skepticism over the proposed deal, which will certainly get a close look from the Federal Trade Commission. Google is already under the DOJ’s magnifying glass for antitrust concerns.

“Google is under anti-trust investigation and is gobbling up Fitbit–a company that stores some of our most private health data,” tweeted Representative Katie Porter, a Democrat from California. “It’s time for anti-trust enforcers to do their jobs instead of keeping us all under the rule of monopolies.”

Hawley said almost the same thing. “Why should Google be permitted to acquire even more companies while they’re under DOJ antitrust investigation?” he tweeted.

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