The deadline for Europe to make a call on the Google -Fitbit merger has been pushed out again — with EU regulators now having until January 8, 2021, to take a decision.
The latest change to the provisional deadline, spotted earlier by Reuters, could be the result of one of the parties asking for more time.
Last month the deadline for a decision was extended until December 23 — potentially pushing the decision out beyond a year after Google announced its intention to buy Fitbit, back in November 2019. So if the tech giant was hoping for a simple and swift regulatory rubberstamping its hopes have been diminishing since August when the Commission announced it was going to dig into the detail. Once bitten and all that.
The proposed Fitbit acquisition also comes as Alphabet, Google’s parent, is under intense antitrust scrutiny on multiple fronts on home turf.
Google featured prominently in a report by the House Judiciary Committee on big tech antitrust concerns earlier this month, with US lawmakers recommending a range of remedies — including breaking up platform giants.
European lawmakers are also in the process of drawing up new rules to regulate so-called ‘gatekeeper’ platforms — which would almost certainly apply to Google. A legislative proposal on that is expected before the end of this year, which means it may appear before EU regulators have taken a decision on the Google-Fitbit deal. (And one imagines Google isn’t exactly stoked about that possibility.)
Both competition and privacy concerns have been raised against allowing Google get its hands on Fitbit users’ data.
The tech giant has responded by offering a number of pledges to try to convince regulators — saying it would not use Fitbit health and wellness data for ads and offering to have data separation requirements monitored. It has also said it would commit to maintain third parties’/rivals’ access to its Android ecosystem and Fitbit’s APIs.
However rival wearable makers have continued to criticize the proposed merger. And, earlier this week, consumer protection and human rights groups issued a joint letter — urging regulators to only approve the takeover if “merger remedies can effectively prevent [competition and privacy] harms in the short and long term”.
One thing is clear: With antitrust concerns now writ large against ‘big tech’ the era of ‘friction-free’ acquisitions looks to be behind Google et al.