NEW DELHI: US smart wearables brand Fitbit, which is soon to be acquired by Alphabet Inc’s Google, finds the India market “incredibly attractive” with the rapidly growing focus on health and wellness, and has underlined its commitment to protect user data and share it only with “explicit” consent.

In his first ever media interaction in Asia, Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park told ET that while data of Indians is not stored locally, it’s subject to tight privacy and data security safeguards that it applies to data of all its global users.

“For instance, our privacy policy that’s applicable around the world says that we won’t share your data, and will only share your data with the explicit opt in consent of our users,” Park said. “And even when we work with institutions like companies and insurance companies and governments, we have a bill of rights that protect our users and make sure that our data is only used in certain ways.”

When asked about the growing call in India for storing data locally, Park declined to comment.

Talking about the hurdles facing Fitbit’s acquisition by Google, Park said that its users’ data will not be used for powering results on Google search engines. He added that the California-based brand is in “tight dialogue” with regulators and expects the deal to close in 2020.

“Google, at the time of the deal being signed, already pledged that Fitbit data would not be used for purposes of powering search results on Google search engines. And really, you know, it’s not in Google’s interest to destroy the consumer trust built by Fitbit over the past 13 years,” the CEO said.

The $2.1 billion acquisition by Google, aimed at taking on the likes of Apple, Huawei and Xiaomi in the smart wearables segment, is facing scrutiny by antitrust bodies across the world including the US, the UK and the EU for possible use of users’ health data for targeting ads. Close to 20 advocacy groups have written to regulators warning against the hazards of the merger.

Keeping data concerns aside, the acquisition is great for Fitbit to scale its services business using Google’s reach, expertise, infrastructure and money muscle, analysts said.

In India, the company expects to play in the premium segment with its products, based on high-end health features.

“We are seeing great interest from corporate wellness, insurance, and healthcare partners in India, and our health solutions and corporate wellness business continues to grow,” Park said.

The company is ranked No. 7 with a 0.9% share in the fitness bands segment, trailing leader Xiaomi, which has a 61.2% share. Globally, it shares the 6th rank in the smartwatch segment with Amazpit, trailing leader Apple, which had a 51.4% share at June end.

When asked about competition and its low market share in India, Park said, “Our goal in India is actually not to directly compete at the affordable price points. It’s more to compete at the high end…So our goal is to differentiate based on high end health features and to have that backed by the stamp of approval by regulatory agencies around the world.”

For example, the company is researching early Covid-19 detection feature, and has launched a clinical trial with over 100,000 participants, which it hopes to release into the India market as well, with due approval from regulators.

Fitbit’s latest incorporation of an electrodermal activity (EDA) sensor on a smartwatch to help manage stress, which is also a timely move given the pandemic, has taken it one step ahead of tech pioneer Apple, industry analysts said.

“Versa and Sense are positioned as premium products and the latter with lots of meaningful sensors to track all-round wellness—mental to physical—carves out an attractive niche for fitness enthusiasts versus the consumer solutions such as Apple Watch, which are more versatile,” Neil Shah, research director at Counterpoint, said.

In India, where 75% of the smartwatch market is dominated by Xiaomi and Titan, Fitbit’s strategy is more value based rather than volumes, experts said.

“From the offerings side, it’s a bit squeezed between low-cost smart band solutions such as Xiaomi and GoQii on one-end and Apple, Samsung on the other having more mindshare and market share. So, it has brand equity but will have to work on capturing mindshare of Indian consumers first,” Shah added.

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