A groupuscule has decided that Google’s acquisition of Fitbit cannot be allowed to pass. Apparently on the grounds that it will benefit consumers. That’s not quite how they put it but it is what they mean for as Joan Robinson said the only thing worse than being exploited by a capitalist is not being so.
But, you know, can’t allow the Americans to benefit consumers now, can we? For if they do that what purpose the bureaucracy meant to benefit consumers by excluding Americans?
As documented by the CMA, controlling access to vast audiences allows Google to charge higher advertising prices; and controlling access to unparalleled data about these audiences allows Google to carve them up according to demographics, interests and locations, and to auction them to the highest bidder.
The consumer here is the advertiser. To whom all of the traditional methods of advertising are still open. Radio, TV, newspapers, they all still exist, as do billboards, direct mail and so on and on. So, why do they flock to advertising through Google? Because while each advertisement might well cost more advertising as a whole costs less. By reducing that half of all the budget that is wasted the cost per advertisee rises, sure, but the cost per interested potential consumer falls.
That is, Google isn’t charging higher advertising prices. Consumers – again, here, the advertisers – are paying less, not more.
capable of harming consumers through personalisation of advertising and increasingly also by enabling targeted product offerings,
Their claim is that Google harms consumers – again, advertisers – by allowing them not to waste money on clickbait for tampons to male to female trans but target it selectively to people who menstruate. This is being listed as a harm – these people are mad.
This discriminatory power, supported by Google’s unmatched data, is the dimension of the proposed acquisition of Fitbit that concerns us most. The interest of Google in this deal is not in Fitbit’s wearable itself – but only in the wearable as a source of valuable complementary health metrics which Google can correlate with an enormous wealth of other data. Exploiting this data as a general-purpose input, and flexing its discriminatory power, is something Google has done (very profitably) for some time, and very openly, in online advertising markets. But such data has many more possible applications and Google has the incentive, ability, and track record to leverage its strength in data into many potential markets.
Therefore we cannot allow Google to do more of this.
What’s worse all the groupuscule are very keen on insisting that they’ve not been paid by competitors to write this. Nope, they’re not bought at all, they’re believers. Lord help the academy if this is the sort of idiocy that infests it. Actually, Lord help the rest of us if this is the sort of stupidity that informs how the world is to be organised.