As part of its takeover of Fitbit, Google will begin requiring customers to use Google accounts to manage their fitness-tracking devices, reigniting privacy concerns over the acquisition in 2019.
As of now, owners of Fitbit devices maintain a separate online account that isn’t connected to Google, except where users have granted third-party app permissions to link Fitbit data to Google’s own apps or use their Gmail account to login. That’s set to change “sometime in 2023,” Fitbit said, touting the move as a good thing for its users.
“A single login for Fitbit and other Google services, industry-leading account security, centralized privacy controls for Fitbit user data, and more” were cited by the Google subsidiary as reasons its customers will appreciate the change.
Not all users of Fitbit will be required to sign in with a Google account immediately in 2023. When the switchover takes place next year, new Fitbit users that sign up for an account will have to do so with a Google account that is linked to Fitbit , as will existing customers who upgrade to a new Fitbit device or wish to activate new features.
Those not caught up in that change can keep their FitBit accounts for another few years.
“Support of Fitbit accounts will continue until at least early 2025. After support of Fitbit accounts ends, a Google account will be required to use Fitbit,” the company said.
What’s the real privacy story?
From its CEO on down, Fitbit has reiterated multiple times that Google had made binding commitments with the European Commission (EC) in 2020 as a condition of the Fitbit acquisition.
Among other things, Google agreed to keep Fitbit user data siloed from its systems and to not use said data to target advertisements at Fitbit customers in the European Economic Area (EEA) for a period of 10 years.
“This deal has always been about devices, not data, and we’ve been clear since the beginning that we will protect Fitbit users’ privacy,” Google’s SVP of Products and Services, Rick Osterloh, said when the acquisition closed in early 2021.
Osterloh said Google made “a series of binding commitments that confirm Fitbit users’ health and wellness data won’t be used for Google ads and this data will be separated from other Google ads data,” but in all the statements from both companies, they do not address the fact that the binding agreement made with the EC only affects the EEA.
Google has previously failed to live up to promises to give users control of their data, most recently when it was seen collecting phone call and SMS data sent through default Android apps. Concerns like these likely prompted 20 consumer rights groups to issue an open letter to regulators around the world urging close scrutiny of Google’s Fitbit purchase.
We reached out to Google to get more specifics on its plan for data and asked whether or not its EC agreement would apply to customers in the rest of the world, but haven’t heard back.
Sports watch users considering a different fitness tracker who are concerned about the sign-in might wish to avoid Samsung, too. ®