Google's DoubleClick Deal Brings Greater Focus on Privacy

The FTC could have established "the necessary safeguards for personal data and competition that could have allowed a global [privacy] framework to emerge," Rotenberg said. "[The FTC's] sole purpose is to protect the public interest. It failed to do so ... in a case that will have far-reaching implications for the Internet economy and the privacy rights of American consumers."

Joseph Turow, a communication professor at the University of Pennsylvania, agreed. The European Union is still investigating the Google-DoubleClick deal, with a decision not due until April, and it is likely that regulators there will take a harder look at privacy issues, he said.

Consumer tracking and privacy should be part of the FTC's antitrust review when it looks at online advertising deals, he said. "You can't talk about the digital advertising market today without talking about competition in targeting Americans," he said.

Google supports the FTC's efforts to create privacy guidelines, David Drummond, the company's senior vice president for corporate development and chief legal officer, said in a blog post. "The FTC's decision publicly affirms what we and numerous independent analysts have been saying for months: Our acquisition does not threaten competition in what is a robust, innovative, and quickly evolving online advertising space," Drummond wrote. "In fact, we firmly believe the transaction will increase competition and bring substantial benefits to consumers, web publishers, and online advertisers."

Critics failed to show specific privacy harms, added Thomas Lenard, president of iGrowthGlobal, a conservative think tank. "I don't see a problem because nobody has demonstrated the acquisition will result in any privacy harm to consumers," he said. "All the allegations are very hypothetical. Privacy advocates assert that Google's and DoubleClick's activities injure consumers, but they don't provide any evidence."

If the FTC had blocked the deal, it would be "penalizing success, and that would send a bad signal to the marketplace," Lenard added. "That would also be bad for consumers."

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