Friday, December 21, 2007

BEUC urge EU to reject Google DoubleClick deal while FTC approves

The European Consumers Organisation, beuc, the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, vzbv, the Spanish Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios, OCU, and the Italian Altroconsumo have written to competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, urging her to reject Google's takeover of Doubleclick.

Meanwhile the Federal Trade Commission in the US have given the deal the green light, in a split 4-1 vote, noting that the proposed acquisition is unlikely to substantially lessen competition.

The consumers organisations have this to say specifically on the consequences of the deal for the privacy of people in the EU:

"The Google/DoubleClick merger would harm consumer welfare by creating a structure that
almost certainly will be less respectful of user privacy. A combined Google/DoubleClick will
be a data collection colossus that combines information about consumers that Google
collects through its search engine with the tracking data that DoubleClick collects about
users as they surf the web.

Post-merger, Google will have the ability and incentive to engage in significantly more
intrusive user tracking and profiling than exists today. This is because more intrusive
tracking and profiling would enable Google to improve behavioural ad targeting and to
attract web publishers that today prefer to sell their advertising space via their direct sales
forces. However, because the merged entity will not be subject to any competitive discipline,
the competitive constraints on its tracking and profiling practices will be fundamentally
weakened, and quite likely, ultimately eliminated. The greater privacy intrusions that will
result will constitute a much higher “cost” for consumers who obtain a good or service
online. The point which we wish to emphasize here is that these privacy intrusions will be
the direct consequence of the elimination of the competitive constraints on Google following
its merger with DoubleClick.

In addition, the combination of Google and DoubleClick would further harm consumer
welfare by reducing innovation to improve online privacy, thereby harming the quality of the
service available to consumers. Privacy protection is a competitive differentiator between
companies involved in the business of online advertising serving, especially with European
audiences. Google itself has said that it is investigating new techniques to improve its
privacy practices. Indeed search companies are currently engaging in what the media has
termed a “privacy race”. But post-merger, there is a danger that Google will loose any
incentive to continue innovating in this area due to its hugely dominant position in online
advertising. It will be under considerably less competitive pressure to improve – or even
maintain – the poor quality of its current privacy practices."

Privacy International wrote to Ms Kroes in November, with the support of Associazione per la Libertà nella Comunicazione Elettronica Interattiva (Italy), Digital Rights (Denmark), Digital Rights Ireland, Electronic Frontier Finland, European Digital Rights (EU), IRIS - Imaginons un réseau Internet solidaire (France) and Netzwerk Neue Medien (Germany), expressing parallel concerns.

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