Google announcing that it has bought Fitbit (pending approval by the right regulatory agencies) leaves us with plenty of questions about how the two companies will operate, or even if Fitbit still remains as more than a brand name. But for many of us the biggest question is what happens to all the data we have stored with Fitbit or through the Fitbit Wellness program with our health insurance company.
It's important to know where our Fitbit data is going so we know if we want to keep using any Fitbit products.
This is important for Google, too. Health data walks a thin line between personal data we collect for our own use and any data that is designed to be shared with health professionals. The latter needs to be HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliant and that means special handling — as well as restrictions on how Google can use it.
Because the business minds at Google are as smart as the people writing the code, Google has an idea about how things are going to go down. Google is a data-driven company; it makes its money largely on collecting and analyzing the data we agree to give it when we use Google products. Having a plan in place from day one is important, and here's what Google has to say on it all:
Google aspires to create tools that help people enhance their knowledge, success, health and happiness. This goal is closely aligned with Fitbit's long-time focus on wellness and helping people live healthier, more active lives. But to get this right, privacy and security are paramount. When you use our products, you're trusting Google with your information.
We understand this is a big responsibility and we work hard to protect your information, put you in control and give you transparency about your data. Similar to our other products, with wearables, we will be transparent about the data we collect and why. We will never sell personal information to anyone. Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data.
Breaking this long paragraph down, we see the first few sentences exist to reassure us that Google still considers the handling of your data to be really important. It's going to store it securely, stay transparent about what it collects and how, and not sell it to any third party. In this regard, Fitbit data is no different than any of the rest of your information.
It's the last two sentences that give us the information we're looking for.
Fitbit health and wellness data will not be used for Google ads. A lot of people are worried about this. Google makes money by using the data you provide to show you personalized ads, and nobody wants this to be the case when talking about health data. Information about how we sleep or how we excersize or any other aspect of our healthiness to worm its way into a Google Ads profile. And if you're enrolled into any Fitbit Wellness-style program doing so would violate HIPAA guidelines. Google is wisely taking the hands-off approach here.
Nobody wants to see ads based on health data and it could be illegal. Smart move, Google.
And we will give Fitbit users the choice to review, move, or delete their data. This is important. Possibly the most important words you'll read on the whole acquisition of Fitbit. You might enjoy using Google products and think that Google buying Fitbit will make your experience with an existing product like the Versa 2 better. But there are plenty of people who feel the opposite.
Either way, there are bound to be some changes in how any existing Fitbit products work and how any future wearables sold under a Fitbit brand will work. If you've bought into the Fitbit brand you deserve the right to keep your data out of Google's hands or import it into a different platform and this part of the policy ensures it.
There are still plenty of unanswered questions and nobody wants to see a repeat of how Google handled Nest integration. At least when it comes to our Fitbit data we have a good idea of Google plans to do now and in the future.
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