Google claims Fitbit acquisition is 'complete,' US Department of Justice disagrees

Google’s acquisition of Fitbit is now complete, according to an announcement made by the company earlier this morning. Claiming that the deal was always about Fitbit’s hardware expertise and not customer data, Google says it has smoothed over regulatory concerns with a series of safeguards and commitments. However, we aren’t sure if Australian regulators’ concerns have been addressed given the ongoing state of that investigation.

Google secured the European Commission’s blessing back in December for the long-awaited $2.1 billion deal. However, there were a few conditions attached to it, all of which seem to have been addressed based on Google’s announcement. In short, Google has to keep Fitbit user data separated, where it can’t be used for things like advertising, and third-party access to existing Fitbit web APIs must be maintained. Google also can’t give Fitbit an unfair advantage in the Android wearable marketplace or give other companies an indirect disadvantage by creating new closed APIs, etc.

On paper, this would appear to close out the merger, which we’ve been waiting to happen since it was announced back in November 2019, but there are two potential hiccups.

One, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission raised its own objections to the deal just a few weeks ago, claiming its investigation wouldn’t be complete until March 25th. You don’t need to be a horologist to read today’s calendar and see that today (i.e., January 14th) is quite a bit before then. There hasn’t been any public announcement regarding the acquisition from the ACCC since then, so either the regulatory body privately gave Google approval, or Google has elected to ignore it.

Second, it looks like Google also didn’t get the US Department of Justice’s approval for the merger, either. DAAG Alex Okuliar tells us:

“The Antitrust Division’s investigation of Google’s acquisition of Fitbit remains ongoing. Although the Division has not reached a final decision about whether to pursue an enforcement action, the Division continues to investigate whether Google’s acquisition of Fitbit may harm competition and consumers in the United States. The Division remains committed to conducting this review as thoroughly, efficiently, and expeditiously as possible.”

However, a Google representative claims that isn’t the case, and that it did get implicit approval following a waiting period expiration:

“We complied with the DOJ’s extensive review for the past 14 months, and the agreed upon waiting period expired without their objection. We continue to be in touch with them and we’re committed to answering any additional questions. We are confident this deal will increase competition in the highly crowded wearables market, and we’ve made commitments that we plan to implement globally.”

Google’s acquisition of Fitbit has been a subject of review since 2019, and so far, the DoJ has yet to publicly state the results of the investigation. That could be a result of the general scope of its investigations against Google, or perhaps Trump’s DoJ simply failed to renew or extend that waiting period, implicitly granting approval of the merger by failing to stay on top of the deadline previously imposed (We aren’t familiar with the process here, and the DoJ doesn’t seem to have divulged those details that we can find.) We’ve reached out to the US Department of Justice for more information, and we’ve pointed out the discrepancy to Google as well; we’ll update if we hear more. We’ve also reached out to the Australian ACCC for more information as well.

Recently, Fitbit wearables have been picking up some Googly features, like Assistant integration, and Google’s been building deeper integration for wearables as well, like with the Assistant’s new Wellness section. Even before the merger was “complete,” both Google and Fitbit have been building toward it, and the company’s recent wearables have reviewed well. If that trend continues, this could mean better wearables for consumers, just as the global market is set to explode.

Between Australia and the US, though, it looks like Google has jumped the gun on announcing an end to the merger. Maybe the company is trying to railroad regulatory agencies into premature approval, though that’s probably not a wise move in the middle of so many antitrust investigations.