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EU Worried About Privacy With Google, DoubleClick

Privacy a bigger deal to Europe than to the FTC

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European Commission regulators reviewing the Google-DoubleClick deal have heard concerns from a consumer group about data privacy worries.

The complaint made by the European Consumers’ Organization, BEUC, to EC head Neelie Kroes echoed the letter the group submitted on July 27. Privacy remains an issue, and BEUC wants the DoubleClick merger stopped.

"The online advertising market will be placed in jeopardy if the Google/DoubleClick merger is allowed to proceed, because the combined company will dominate both major “pipelines” for online advertising – both the pipeline for search ads and the pipeline for non-search ads," the newest letter said.

They proceeded to note the "super-dominant" position in search Google holds in several EU member countries. BEUC also cited AdWords and DoubleClick as the dominant search and non-search advertising choices on the Internet.

"Following the merger, there will be no real alternative to the combined entity for advertisers and web publishers," BEUC said.

Google has routinely denied that claim, and recently pointed to Microsoft’s agreement with Viacom to provide advertising services across Viacom’s web properties.

Competition comes into play with the BEUC points about privacy. The group recognized that privacy might be "tangential to competition law analyses," they think it is highly relevant here:

A combined Google/DoubleClick will be a data collection colossus that combines information about consumers that Google collects through its search engine with the tracking data that DoubleClick collects about users as they surf the web.

Post-merger, Google will have the ability and incentive to engage in significantly more intrusive user tracking and profiling than exists today. This is because more intrusive tracking and profiling would enable Google to improve behavioural ad targeting and to attract web publishers that today prefer to sell their advertising space via their direct sales forces.

However, because the merged entity will not be subject to any competitive discipline, the competitive constraints on its tracking and profiling practices will be fundamentally weakened, and quite likely, ultimately eliminated.

Appeals to US Federal Trade Commission members to consider privacy in the case of DoubleClick mostly fell on deaf ears. One dissenting Commissioner, and another who concurred on the privacy point, pointed out the dangers involved.

Kroes and the EC do not have to consider privacy concerns in their antitrust analysis; the FTC did not have to, either. Whether the FTC’s decision or the BEUC’s opinion sways EC regulators will not be known until possibly March 2008.

 

EU Worried About Privacy With Google, DoubleClick
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