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Privacy concerns raised with FTC over Google/DoubleClick deal

Three public-interest groups filed a joint complaint on April 20 with the Federal Trade Commission calling for an investigation into the potential threat to consumer privacy posed by Google’s planned acquisition of DoubleClick.

The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Groups are asking the FTC to stop the merger until the it investigates Google’s data collection and storage practices. The filing orders DoubleClick to sweep out its data storehouse and requires the search giant to offer a public plan for safeguarding consumer privacy.

“As set forth in detail below, the increasing collection of personal information of Internet users by Internet advertisers poses far-reaching privacy concerns that the Commission should address,” the groups said in the filing. “Neither Google nor DoubleClick have taken adequate steps to safeguard the personal data that is collected. Moreover, the proposed acquisition will create unique risks to privacy and will violate previously agreed standards for the conduct of online advertising.”

In its largest acquisition yet, Google has agreed to pay $3.1 billion in cash for online ad company DoubleClick, the companies announced April 13.

The deal gives Google a large network of advertisers and Web publishers to serve and sell ads to. It boosts the search giant’s banner advertising business, which lagged rival Yahoo’s.

The acquisition, which is expected to close sometime later this year, will also give media agencies and advertisers the ability to manage integrated search and display ad campaigns through one centralized console.

Google is buying DoubleClick from San Francisco-based private equity firm Hellman & Friedman, which acquired DoubleClick two years ago for $1.1 billion, and JMI Equity and Management. The deal is subject to regulatory approval. David Drummond, senior vice president of corporate development at Google, said he was confident that antitrust and other regulators would approve the agreement.

The groups’ however, believe the FTC should be involved.

“Google’s proposed acquisition of DoubleClick will give one company access to more information about the Internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world,” the groups said in the filing. “Moreover, Google will operate with virtually no legal obligation to ensure the privacy, security, and accuracy of the personal data that it collects. At this time, there is simply no consumer privacy issue more pressing for the Commission to consider than Google’s plan to combine the search histories and web site visit records of Internet users.”

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