EU Ready To Approve Google/DoubleClick Deal

The European authorities reportedly are poised to approve Google's $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick, without imposing any restrictions.

The European Commission, which has antitrust oversight in Europe, is expected to announce Tuesday that it has cleared the deal, according to Bloomberg. The Federal Trade Commission approved the deal without conditions late last year, but Google couldn't complete the merger without also securing the European authorities' approval.

Google declined to comment on the report. "This is still an ongoing investigation but we do not believe the transaction raises any competition concerns," a company spokesperson said. "We hope the EC will come to the same conclusions as the FTC and clear the deal without any conditions."

News of the imminent approval disappointed some privacy advocates, who had urged the authorities to limit Google's use of DoubleClick data about consumers. "EC regulators--as with the FTC--ignored how the deal threatens both privacy and the diversity of online publishing," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. "Consumer advocates will continue to press, in the U.S. and in the EC, for Google to operate in a competitive and privacy-respectful manner."

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The Center for Digital Democracy and Electronic Privacy Information Center had argued that the deal poses a threat because Google could combine its knowledge of users' search history with DoubleClick's data about people's Web-surfing activity to create highly detailed user profiles.

Regardless of the EC's expected approval of the deal, another set of regulators in Europe--the Article 29 Working Group, which oversees privacy matters--might still limit Google's use of data about consumers. That group recently indicated that it considers Internet Protocol addresses personal data, meaning that search engines have to follow Europe's privacy rules if they collect such addresses.

That group is expected to issue a full report outlining new measures in April. While any rules would only be binding in Europe, privacy advocates are optimistic that search companies would respond by revising their practices worldwide. "We do hope the Europeans will propose some privacy rules that will have a trickle-down effect in the United States," Chester said.

Google currently keeps logs of both search queries and the IP addresses they came from for 18 months. The company has said it will "anonymize" the IP addresses after that time period by masking the last two digits of the address. But privacy advocates say that 18 months is too long to retain such information and that Google should delete the IP addresses rather than attempting to anonymize them.

Google chief economist Hal Varian this week defended the company's data retention practices in a blog post arguing that Google uses data it collects to improve the quality of its search results. "We're constantly experimenting with our algorithm, tuning and tweaking on a weekly basis to come up with more relevant and useful results for our users," Varian wrote. "But in order to come up with new ranking techniques and evaluate if users find them useful, we have to store and analyze search logs."

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