Consumer Groups Ask FTC to Probe Google-DoubleClick Deal

Question Privacy Policies of Search Giant and Ad Server

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- Consumer and privacy groups are asking the Federal Trade Commission to probe the privacy implications of Google's $3.1 billion deal for DoubleClick and force DoubleClick to dump much of its consumer data before any merger takes place.
A petition asks the FTC to bar Google from combining personally identifiable DoubleClick data with its own unless an individual consumer can get a look at the data collected.
A petition asks the FTC to bar Google from combining personally identifiable DoubleClick data with its own unless an individual consumer can get a look at the data collected.

In a petition filed with the FTC today, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and a coalition of state public-interest groups said Google's collection of consumers' search information violates FTC fairness requirements and that combining it with DoubleClick's tracking information is an invasion of a consumer's privacy.

Policies aren't 'adequate'
"We don't believe that the privacy policies are adequate for either of these companies and that the problems will be exacerbated if they combine," said Mark Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC. He said the combination would lead to more "more invasive profiling of users."

The petition asks the FTC to bar Google from combining personally identifiable DoubleClick data with its own unless an individual consumer can get a look at the data collected.

DoubleClick today said the tracking information it gathers is the property of its clients and won't be combined with Google's search information.

"Since the announcement of Google's intention to acquire DoubleClick, several media reports have incorrectly suggested that data collected by the company's online display advertising technology could be used by Google, or combined with information owned by Google," DoubleClick said in a statement.

'Simply not the case'
"This is simply not the case. Information collected by DoubleClick DART ad serving technology belongs to DoubleClick's clients. Any and all information collected by DoubleClick is, and will remain, the property of the company's clients. Further, Google would not be able to match its search data to the data collected by DoubleClick, as DoubleClick does not have the right to use its clients' data for such purposes."

Google in its own statement from deputy general counsel Nicole Wong said it recently strengthened its privacy policies and the complaint "is unsupported by the facts and the law.

"Google aggressively protects user privacy and recognizes that user trust is essential to the success of our products and central to the company's values," the statement reads. "Our privacy policies are clear and easily accessible to our users. We provide strong notice when users sign up for products that may collect personally identifiable information and offer users choices about how their information is used," the statement read.

"EPIC utterly fails to identify any practice that does not comply with accepted privacy standards," Ms. Wong said.

Mr. Rotenberg said that even if the specific tracking data isn't combined, the joint use of identifiers by DoubleClick and Google would create new privacy issues by greatly expanding the ability to profile consumers without their knowledge.

Microsoft weighs in
Microsoft, which lost out in the bidding for DoubleClick, has also questioned the combination's privacy implications.

In a statement last month, Brad Smith, Microsoft's senior VP-general counsel, said the acquisition "raises serious competition and privacy concerns in that it gives the Google/DoubleClick combination unprecedented control in the delivery of online advertising, and access to a huge amount of consumer information by tracking what customers do online.

"We think this merger deserves close scrutiny from regulatory authorities to ensure a competitive online advertising market," he said at the time.
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