Google is buying Fitbit and it's likely they'll succeed, despite the fact that this is an obviously bad idea: allowing one of the world's most data-hungry companies to acquire the assets and customers of a rival whose pitch was, "We don't give your sensitive data to Google."


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To say nothing of the fact that many Fitbit users were nonconsensually opted into wearing a 24/7 tracking cuff by their employers, who reduced their health coverage and/or charged more for it if employees refused.

So why is this merger likely to sail through competition scrutiny, despite its obvious defects and despite the renewed interest in competition in the tech sector?


Under this standard, mergers are allowed to proceed unless someone can prove that they'll make prices go up immediately.tered competition enforcement.

Under this standard, mergers are allowed to proceed unless someone can prove that they'll make prices go up immediately.

That is, even if you can show that a merger will reduce choice, cost jobs, and cement a dominant player's spot at the top of the pyramid, under "consumer harm," the merger can proceed.


This has led to ever-more-absurd and toxic marketplaces, with scholars desperately trying to fit the obvious problems with monopolistic mergers and acquisitions into a consumer harm framework.

A very good example of this weird genre is Vox EU's "Google/Fitbit will monetise health data and harm consumers" which takes 6,000 words to state the obvious: it's a bad idea to let dominant companies buy their smaller competitors.


The reason it takes so much verbiage to accomplish this is that the authors have to fit all the obvious harms of Google buying the company you've been tracking your sex-life, alcohol consumption and menstrual cycles into a "consumer harm" framework.

It's pretty convincing, but mostly because they make the case that the groteque marketplace distortions - the anti-competitive effects of this merger - will, at the margins, also make some prices go up.


The most convincing part of the paper, then, isn't the argument for consumer harms per se, but rather the stark demonstration that there's lots of bad stuff that doesn't fit in the frame.


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