Google-DoubleClick Merger Gets FTC Nod
"Google's proposed acquisition of DoubleClick is unlikely to substantially lessen competition," wrote the FTC in its four-to-one ruling approving the deal without any conditions.
With Thursday's decision, Google cleared a major hurdle to the DoubleClick acquisition, but the deal won't close unless it's also approved in Europe, where regulators are still conducting a review.
Google CEO and chairman Eric Schmidt cheered the news: "The FTC's strong support sends a clear message: this acquisition poses no risk to competition and will benefit consumers," he said in a statement.
Opponents of the deal, meanwhile, vowed to continue opposing the merger, both in the United States and Europe.
"The commissioners clearly don't understand the online advertising market," said Jeff Chester, founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "The majority of the commission really did not want to proactively act in this case," he added. "We hope the European Commission will step up now and do what the FTC was afraid to do."
The European regulators will conduct their own independent analysis, and aren't likely to be swayed by Thursday's FTC ruling, said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Rebecca Arbogast. She added that the FTC decision could potentially backfire against Google, if European authorities think the FTC should have imposed conditions on the deal. "If the Europeans perceive that the U.S. gave a pass to U.S. companies, they are going to be all the more careful in doing their own analysis," she said.
The Center for Digital Democracy and other opponents to the merger are concerned that a combined Google/DoubleClick entity will be able to compile highly detailed profiles of Web users by combining Google's information about users' search history with DoubleClick information about which Web sites they've visited.
Critics, including Google rival Microsoft, also contend that Google/DoubleClick will pose a threat to competition in the online advertising market.
One commissioner, Pamela Jones Harbour, dissented from the decision approving the deal. "I am convinced that the combination of Google and DoubleClick has the potential to profoundly alter the 21st century Internet-based economy," she wrote. "I do not doubt that this merger has the potential to create some efficiencies .... But it has greater potential to harm competition, and it also threatens privacy."
Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy, said he intends to take the fight against the deal to the legislature. "We're going to call on Congress to hold hearings on how the agency conducted the merger review," he said.
That organization is also exploring a legal challenge to the decision based on FTC chair Deborah Platt Majoras' decision to continue with the review even though her husband is a partner in one of the law firms representing DoubleClick. Majoras said last week that she didn't believe her husband's position in Jones Day posed a conflict of interest because he last year changed his status from equity partner to non-equity partner and doesn't share in the firm's profits. She also said that Jones Day hadn't represented DoubleClick in front of the FTC.