Opposition to Google's DoubleClick deal mounting

Google officials have repeatedly defended its privacy record, saying that their company was one of the first to announce it would anonymize the captured IP (Internet Protocol) addresses of its users, in Google's case after 18 months. In addition, DoubleClick doesn't own the user data when it serves advertisements to client Web sites; instead the Web sites own the data, said Nicole Wong, Google's deputy general counsel, speaking last week at a U.S. Federal Trade Commission workshop on targeted online advertising.

Users can access many Google services without logging in, and Google constantly works on making its privacy policy easier to access and understand, Wong said. Google recently posted videos on YouTube explaining its privacy policy, she added.

"Our users' trust and their privacy are critical to our business," Wong said at the FTC workshop. "Our users are free to pick up and leave, and because of that, we have to work every day, on every product, to earn their trust and their business."

Privacy concerns about the DoubleClick deal aren't going away, however.

CDD, EPIC and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) filed an 11-page complaint about the Google-DoubleClick merger with the FTC April 20. CDD and US PIRG filed a supplemental complaintabout industry-wide privacy practices, as the FTC opened its two-day workshop on online behavioral advertising.

"There are profound consequences to the outcome of this deal," said CDD's Chester. "We have to have safeguards here."

Google has largely avoided commenting on the specific complaints, which fall generally into three categories:

Google and DoubleClick would hold a huge database of information about Internet users.

The acquisition "will give one company access to more information about the Internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world," CDD, EPIC and US PIRG said in their April complaint. "Moreover, Google will operate with virtually no legal obligation to ensure the privacy, security, and accuracy of the personal data it collects."

Google officials have in part disputed those claims by saying DoubleClick doesn't own data on users and by saying its anonymization of IP addresses after 18 months will protect privacy.

Secondly, privacy groups complain that Google isn't transparent about what privacy information it collects. The April complaint noted that Google does not explain that it saves users' search terms in connection with their IP addresses on its privacy policy highlights page, but Google does explain what information it collects in a link on that page. Google's layered privacy policy is organized the way it is so that it's easy for readers to digest, Wong said.

Google tries to make its privacy policies sound like they're not written in lawyer-speak, she added. Her work on the privacy policies was "an exercise in creative writing I haven't had since graduate school," she said.

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service
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