Google facing new front with U.K. probe into $2.6B data company deal

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(Bloomberg) --Google is facing a U.K. investigation into its $2.6 billion takeover of data company Looker Data Sciences Inc., opening up another front in the Alphabet Inc. unit’s ongoing battle with lawmakers.

The Competition and Markets Authority on Thursday said that it issued an initial enforcement order, which prevents companies from integrating their services while the regulator carries out a early-stage review of the acquisition. The CMA has asked for comments on the deal by Dec. 20 before it decides whether to begin a formal probe.

Google announced in June that it planned to buy U.S.-based Looker for its cloud unit, which lags far behind Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. with just 4% of the cloud-computing infrastructure market as of 2018, according to the most-recent figures from analyst Gartner Inc. U.S. regulators cleared the deal in November.

The U.K. review -- likely to focus on how Google plans to wield its power over data -- comes as Margrethe Vestager, the European Union’s Competition Commissioner, leads the charge into looking into how companies collect and use information. In August, she called tech giants “robot vacuum cleaners” sucking up valuable data in a way that can undermine competition.

Vestager is currently investigating “the data business model” used by Google and others to collect information on how people use the web. She said the EU has posed “many questions to Google and others to get their views” and help the EU understand how the industry works, with a focus on contractual terms.

Google agreed to buy smartwatch maker Fitbit Inc. for $2.1 billion. The tie-up, announced in October, has come under scrutiny from U.S. lawmakers.

Though Google isn’t a leader in smartwatches or fitness trackers, regulators in the U.S. and elsewhere will likely have questions about what Google intends to do with the data Fitbit users have shared over the years, including intimate health and location information.

--With assistance from Jonathan Browning

Bloomberg News