Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, on Wednesday pressed top officials at the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over Google’s proposed acquisition of fitness tracking company Fitbit.
“Google’s proposed acquisition of Fitbit would threaten to give it yet another way to surveil users and entrench its monopoly power online,” the Rhode Island lawmaker said during a subcommittee hearing on antitrust in digital markets.
“Do you think we need to consider a merger moratorium for dominant platforms during the course of these ongoing investigations?” he added
Makan Delrahim, the head of the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, responded, “There’s a lot that can be done short of a merger moratorium.”
“By doing that, we might risk actually harming consumers because there could be mergers and transactions that could be pro-competitive,” he added.
Cicilline then suggested a “qualified moratorium — a moratorium unless it was demonstrated to be pro-competitive.”
“I don’t have a clear administration on that, but we’d be delighted to explore that with you,” Delrahim responded.
Delrahim told reporters after the hearing that the DOJ does not have unilateral authority to implement a merger moratorium and would need congressional approval.
FTC Chairman Joseph Simons added that his agency is “looking at consummated mergers as part of technology enforcement division mandate.”
Google’s proposed $2.1 billion merger of Fitbit has set off alarm bells for privacy advocates.
Cicilline referenced a letter sent by nine public interest groups to the FTC earlier Wednesday asking the agency to block the deal.
“This transaction should not be permitted because Google already holds a dominant position in the digital marketplace, health data is critical to the future of that marketplace, and the data protection concerns stemming from the acquisition will have far-reaching consequences including a dramatic erosion of consumer privacy,” wrote the groups, which included the Open Markets Institute, Public Citizen and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
A review of the acquisition, which both companies have said is subject to regulatory and shareholder approval, could fall under the authority of the DOJ or FTC.
The acquisition comes amid mounting scrutiny into the tech giant’s market power and growing fears about Big Tech’s collection of data from consumers, especially sensitive information such as health records and activity.