For some privacy advocates, Google's proposed US$3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick represents a major threat.
Privacy groups such as Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), which have raised red flags ever since Google announced its planned acquisition in mid-April, are finding new support this week. The acquisition would marry the leading Internet search provider with a huge provider of display advertising, a "merger of two No. 1's," said Jeffrey Chester, CDD's executive director.
On Tuesday, a group of 12 Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives called for hearings on the merger. The 12 sent a letter to Representative Bobby Rush, the Democratic chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, saying they are concerned over the privacy implications of the merger.
"Google and DoubleClick would have one of the largest search query databases with one of the world's largest online user behavioral profile databases," said the letter, signed by Representative Cliff Stearns, the senior Republican on the subcommittee, Representative Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican and former speaker of the House, and 10 others. "The privacy implications of such a merger are enormous and, without an in-depth examination, we and the American public will not fully understand what all of those implications are."
In addition to the congressional letter, the American Antitrust Institute, which generally opposes large mergers, released a position paper opposing the DoubleClick deal on competition grounds. The merger "short circuits what otherwise was shaping up to be a healthy competition between two market-leading firms in each other's core markets," the group said.
A Google spokesman suggested privacy concerns about online advertising are broader than the DoubleClick acquisition. Last week, at a U.S. Federal Trade Commission workshop on online targeted advertising, FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz noted that an FTC review of the DoubleClick acquisition was focused on competition issues, not privacy.
"Google has taken a number of industry-leading steps to improve privacy for our users, and the success of the DoubleClick acquisition depends on our retaining our users' trust," said Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich. "We think that Congress would be best served by taking an industry-wide look at the issue, just as the FTC did at last week's town hall."