Congressman Has Stern Words for Google

Republican Barton Cites Concerns About Privacy, Feels 'Rebuffed' by Web Giant

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A Republican congressman is not so happy with Google, suggesting the search giant has rebuffed his attempts to learn more about the privacy implications of its pending DoubleClick deal. And the timing couldn't be worse as it's crunch time for the Federal Trade Commission to make a decision on the $3.1 billion acquisition.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt.
Rep. Joe Barton of Texas sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Credit: AP

The House Energy and Commerce Committee's ranking Republican, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, has sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt requesting additional information about Google's search, ad-targeting and data-collection practices. The move comes as privacy groups and Google competitors such as Microsoft have been lobbying hard against the DoubleClick acquisition. (The FTC, however, will decide the fate of the acquisition solely on antitrust concerns; a privacy examination is a different matter, the agency has said.)

In the letter, Mr. Barton recalled a Nov. 6 meeting in the congressman's office where they discussed consumer protection and privacy implications of Google-DoubleClick.

Offered assistance
"You seemed to recognize those and similar concerns as legitimate, and graciously offered assistance to my staff to learn about your company's and the broader industry's current search and targeted advertising practices, as well as the potential ramifications of combining these two functions," Mr. Barton wrote.

He then went on to chronicle how he "attempted" to accept the offer, writing to request that two counsels from the Energy and Commerce Committee visit Google's Mountain View, Calif., campus to learn more about search and ad-targeting technology, what kind of information is collected through that and how the data could be used.

"Google officials with whom we spoke deemed the dates inconvenient, and the request was denied," Mr. Barton wrote. "Since then, all efforts to reach a mutually agreeable time have been rebuffed, and it begins to seem that no date for a visit is sufficiently convenient to Google. Your warm initial invitation followed by Google's chilly response to a proposed visit by Committee counsels is disconcerting." His letter went on with a lengthy list of questions about ad targeting and data collection.

Google surprised
The letter was a surprise to Google, said a company spokesman, who noted Google has been trying to set up the visit but the problem was finding a day when Congress wasn't in session that also worked for Google execs. According to a spokesman, one of the days the House committee had requested to meet was the day YouTube held its presidential debate in Florida. Another day fell so close to Thanksgiving that many Google executives were gone for the holiday.

The Google spokesman also said the information requested in Mr. Barton's letter is information that's already available in the public domain, and that Google will certainly respond to this letter.

Additionally, in a letter to Mr. Barton dated Nov. 30, Mr. Schmidt said Google had been discussing the privacy and consumer-protection issues both with the congressman's staff and with the FTC, which hosted a forum devoted to the topic in November. He suggested that "given travel schedules and other obligations of both Google employees and your busy staff, we would be happy to host your staff in our Washington offices where they can meet with Google employees in person as well as by video conference."

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Contributing: Ira Teinowitz
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