Privacy groups press FTC head on DoubleClick review

Groups also call on agency to consider privacy as well as competitive issues

Two privacy groups are threatening legal action against Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras for failing to recuse herself from the pending review of Google's US$3.1 billion acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick.

The groups have also called on the FTC to block the proposed acquisition unless the companies agree to protect the privacy of online users. But the FTC has said it is reviewing the competitive issues related to the merger, not specifically the privacy issues.

Last week, officials from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) in Washington asked Majoras to remove herself from a review of the deal because her husband is a lawyer at Jones Day, the Cleveland-based law firm that is advising DoubleClick on the merger.

However, Majoras said that while Jones Day represents DoubleClick in the review of the deal before the European Commission, the firm does not represent the company before the FTC, has never appeared before the FTC, nor has it been mentioned in dozens of meetings and submissions to the agency.

In a conference call Tuesday, Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC, and Jeff Chester, executive director of the CDD, said Majoras' comments conflict with information that had been posted on the Jones Day Web site, which said the law firm was representing DoubleClick on U.S. antitrust matters. However, Rotenberg and Chester said that information has since been pulled from the law firm's Web site.

A Computerworld search of the Jones Day Web site for information about DoubleClick comes up empty, however a Google cache page of the Web site from November 7, 2007 gives this information, "Jones Day is advising DoubleClick, the digital marketing technology provider, on the international and U.S. antitrust and competition law aspects of its planned US$3.1 billion acquisition by Google. The proposed acquisition will combine DoubleClick's expertise in ad management technology with Google's internet search and content platform. The transaction is currently under review by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and European Commission."

The law firm could not be reached for comment at deadline.

EPIC and the CDD have also filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FTC asking for all documents relating to the connection between Jones Day and the Google-DoubleClick deal.

Rotenberg said the groups aren't sure if they'll file the lawsuit before or after the FTC makes its decision on the matter public.

The FTC could not be reached for comment.

When asked to respond to the potential lawsuit against the FTC chairman, Google sent this statement to Computerworld, "This acquisition is good for consumers, advertisers and Web site publishers and we continue to be confident that it will be approved."

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Linda Rosencrance

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