By Valentina Pop
BRUSSELS -- Google's plan to buy health-tracker Fitbit is inching toward approval in Europe after the U.S. tech company made new concessions to competitors using its Android system for mobile devices.
European Union officials in August launched an in-depth probe into the Alphabet Inc. unit's acquisition plans, saying that Google's initial pledge to refrain from using Fitbit data for advertising purposes was insufficient. The $2.1 billion deal is also under review by the U.S. Justice Department and by Australia's competition authority.
The review of the Fitbit deal comes as Google and other U.S.-based tech companies face intense scrutiny in both the EU and the U.S. for allegedly anticompetitive practices. Some tech critics also say tech companies have used acquisitions to eliminate potential competitors, arguing that merger controls in the U.S. and EU haven't been aggressive enough in recent years.
Google's latest concessions make an approval more likely, according to two people familiar with the case, as the concessions include guarantees not to discriminate against rivals that use Google's Android operating system. Existing agreements between Fitbit and other health-data services, such as Strava, are also to continue unimpeded under Google's commitments. The concessions were reported earlier by Reuters.
Google said it was working with the EU to safeguard competition, in addition to ensuring that Fitbit data won't be used for advertising. "This deal is about devices, not data," Google said. "We're also formalizing our longstanding commitment to supporting other wearable manufacturers on Android and to continue to allow Fitbit users to connect to third-party services."
The European Commission, the EU's competition enforcer, has a Dec. 23 deadline to approve or reject the deal but could give its assent beforehand.
Google's use of data to potentially undermine rivals is the subject of a separate preliminary antitrust investigation by the commission, which has also leveled fines totaling more than $9 billion for the company's anticompetitive practices. Google has challenged those fines in EU courts.
--Sam Schechner in Paris contributed to this article.
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