EU Continues To Scrutinize Google-DoubleClick Deal

by , Jan 21, 2008, 8:00 AM
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The sole Federal Trade Commission member who voted against approving Google's acquisition of DoubleClick and a leading privacy advocate are among the witnesses slated to testify today at a European Union hearing about the privacy implications of the pending merger.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he plans to emphasize to the European Parliament committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs that U.S. legislators are concerned about the privacy implications of the deal. "We want people to understand that the FTC decision was really a surprise to a lot of people," he said. "There was statement after statement after statement from Congress to the FTC that they had to do something about privacy."

In a 4-1 vote, the FTC approved the deal without any restrictions late last year, but the European authorities are still reviewing the proposed $3.1 billion buyout. The deal will not go through if it isn't approved in Europe, despite the FTC clearance.

Privacy advocates worry that Google will combine its information about users' search queries with DoubleClick data about which Web sites users visit to create highly detailed consumer profiles.

Last November, Senators Herb Kohl, chairman of the antitrust subcommittee, and Orrin Hatch, the high-ranking Republican on the committee, told the FTC they worried that the merger carries "profound and potentially far-reaching" implications for the Internet ad market, and "raises fundamental consumer privacy concerns." In addition, 12 Republican Congress members last November called for a hearing into whether Google's proposed $3.1 billion buyout of DoubleClick would compromise Web users' privacy.

FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour, the sole opponent to the decision clearing the deal, doesn't intend to deliver prepared remarks, according to an aide. Instead, she will speak from notes, depending on the direction the seminar takes.

Harbour previously expressed wariness about the merger's privacy ramifications in her dissent. "The truth is, we really do not know what Google/DoubleClick can or will do with its trove of information about consumers' Internet habits. The merger creates a firm with vast knowledge of consumer preferences, subject to very little accountability," she wrote. But Jones also wrote that she thought privacy concerns should be addressed on an industry-wide basis.

Representatives from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft as the industry groups Interactive Advertising Bureau in Europe and Network Advertising Initiative also are expected to testify or submit statements.

"Google takes the issue of privacy very seriously," Google's privacy counsel Peter Fleischer said via a spokesman. "Online privacy is an issue which affects the entire online industry as well as users so it is important that we all contribute to a dialogue on good industry practices so that we can develop a common framework of self-regulation across the world."

Rotenberg said he also plans to call the European authorities attention to FTC chair Deborah Platt Majoras' refusal to recuse herself from the matter even though her husband is a partner at a law firm representing DoubleClick. Majoras last year decided that her husband's involvement with the firm, Jones Day, didn't require her to step aside from the case because he changed his status to non-equity partner in 2006, meaning that he no longer shares in the firm's profits. Majoras also said Jones Day has not appeared before the FTC in the matter.

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