EU Probes Google's Fitbit Bid; Twitter Prepares for FTC Fine

In today’s ExchangeWire news digest: the EU launches an antitrust investigation into Google’s bid for Fitbit; Twitter reveals it could be facing a fine from the FTC over its handling of user data; and a group of US lawmakers urge the FTC to investigate RTB.


EU launches investigation into Google’s Fitbit bid


The EU is launching a fresh antitrust probe into Google over the tech giant’s bid to acquire Fitbit. The Alphabet-owned search firm is competing with Apple and Samsung to takeover the wearable tech company, having made a USD $2.1bn (£1.6bn) bid to do so.

An investigation of this kind is unsurprising – Google executives proved to be conscious of the possibility, and attempted to avoid a new probe by vowing to omit Fitbit data from its advertising efforts.

However, this was not enough to deter the EU Commission from investigating the bid – the regulator has expressed concerns that a successful deal between Fitbit and Google could solidify the US-based search firm’s dominance over the digital ad market.

In a statement, the Commission said “The data collected via wrist-worn wearable devices appears, at this stage of the Commission’s review of the transaction, to be an important advantage in the online advertising markets.” The body will decide by 9th December whether to allow or prevent the deal from going ahead.



Twitter braces itself for FTC fine over handling of user data


Twitter has revealed that it could face a multi-million-dollar fine from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The penalty comes after an FTC investigation alleged that the social media platform made improper use of its users’ personal information by utilising their phone numbers and email addresses for advertising purposes.

Twitter had warned investors of the possibility of a financial hit after disclosing that it had received a draft complaint from the FTC late last month. The state body accused the firm of violating a 2011 consent agreement between the two parties, which ordered that the platform not mislead users about how it safeguards their personal information.

In its second quarter financial filing on Monday (3rd August), Twitter stated that the complaint relates to the firm’s use of data for targeted advertising from 2013 to 2019. The platform also revealed that it expects the fine to land somewhere in the region of between USD $150m – $250m (£114.5m-£190.9m).

With the US-based firm still recovering from a hack that saw the accounts of 130 high-profile users compromised, the news appears to be getting worse for Twitter.



US lawmakers call on FTC to investigate RTB


A collective of US lawmakers has signed a letter to the country’s Federal Trade Commission (FTC) urging the state body to investigate real-time bidding (RTB). The group, led by Democratic senator of Oregon, Ron Wyden and Republican senator of Louisiana, Bill Cassidy, have slammed the practice for enabling “widespread privacy violations by companies in the advertising technology industry.”

in the letter, which was sent to FTC chairman Joseph Simons on Friday (31st July), the bipartisan group accused ad tech firms of “selling private data about millions of Americans collected without their consent from their phones, computers and smart TVs.” The complaint mirrors a number made to the EU Commission that the digital ad buying process violates the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The group emphasised that RTB facilitates the underhand collection of user data by enabling bidders to access user data without winning an auction. Some exchanges have reportedly exploited this system, entering into auctions with the sole intention of siphoning off audience information. Whilst some supply-side practices have blocked exchanges suspected of participating in this practice (known as ‘bidstream’), the group argues that more needs to be done.

It remains to be seen how the FTC will respond to the letter, and what action, if any, it will take.