Microsoft Launches Campaign Against Google-DoubleClick

Microsoft Corp. has teamed with public relations and marketing agency Burson-Marsteller on a campaign to garner industry support for asking regulators to scrutinize and potentially block the proposed merger of Google Inc. and DoubleClick.

Called the Initiative for Competitive Online Marketplace, or iCOMP, the group's mission, according to its Web site, is "to highlight important principles in online services and begin important industry discussions around copyright, privacy, and competition."

So far, Microsoft and Burson-Marsteller seem to be the only companies behind the initiative, though Gavin Grant, the U.K. chairman of Burson-Marsteller, said the names of companies and organizations that have signed iCOMP's online petition should be listed on the Web site by the end of Monday. Microsoft and Burson-Marsteller were planning to go public with iCOMP in a few weeks, but published reports broke news of the initiative Monday.

On behalf of Microsoft, Burston-Marsteller has been sending out e-mails for several weeks to companies, organizations, consumer advocacy groups and the like who are interested in "creating a competitive and dynamic online marketplace," Grant said Monday.

Those companies have been asked to review the Web site and to sign a petition based on a set of principles inspired by concerns raised around the Google-DoubleClick deal.

Grant declined to name any of the more than 100 companies or organizations that were contacted, and said he did not know if Google was among them. Google did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Grant did not explicitly come out and say that iCOMP was formed to directly block the Google-DoubleClick merger. Microsoft and Burson-Marsteller are interested in fostering a discussion to ensure that the digital marketplace remains competitive and they hope that other companies and consumer interest groups that have raised concerns about the merger will join them, he said.

However, the iCOMP petition clearly points to the group's interest in taking a stand against the Google-DoubleClick deal, which opponents claim would give Google control of 80 percent of ads served on the Internet.

For example, the first principle on the iCOMP petition asks signers to agree that "regulators should carefully scrutinize any transactions in the online advertising sector that would create or enhance a dominant market position, substantially reduce existing or future competition, or leave advertisers, online publishers, or consumers with fewer options."

Google announced plans to acquire DoubleClick for US$3.1 billion in April, a deal that immediately had competitors and industry groups crying foul over how much of the online advertising market the combined company would own and also how much access to consumer information it would have. U.S. government agencies scrutinizing the deal include the Federal Trade Commission and two congressional committees.

Google has defended itself in blog posts saying that competitors such as Microsoft, Yahoo Inc. and AOL LLC also are buying up companies to help them boost online advertising and consumer marketing strategies. The company claims its move to buy DoubleClick has not prevented other companies from competing.

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