The Internet search leader said Tuesday that the Federal Trade Commission had launched an antitrust review of its plan to buy DoubleClick Inc., an online advertising firm, for $3.1 billion. The FTC gave Google a detailed list of questions about the deal’s potential effect.
[…] The FTC’s decision to seek more information from the companies after a standard initial review doesn’t necessarily mean the deal is in trouble. The agency often asks tough questions, then approves a deal with few or no conditions.
But some analysts and privacy advocates said Google’s accrual of data could factor into the FTC’s decision about whether the deal would hurt competition.
[…] The big question facing Google: By using DoubleClick’s technology to collect even more detailed information about how millions of people use the Web, would the world’s biggest online marketer make life even more difficult for its competitors?
“The privacy issue is also the competitive issue,” said Blair Levin, an analyst at brokerage Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., who expects the FTC to approve the purchase. “The biggest barrier to entry is not money or engineers or the networks but the information on the behavior of people on the Internet.”
Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said that decisions made now about the structure of the online advertising industry could have lasting effects on data collection and personal privacy on the Internet, especially if control rests with a “few powerful gatekeepers” led by Google.
Still, privacy issues are not typically the concern of antitrust officials. In reviewing a proposed merger, legal experts say, regulators weigh the likely impact on competition and struggle with tricky technical matters like defining the relevant market to measure.
“To the extent that a reduction in competition could make it more difficult to protect privacy, it could be a consideration,” said Andrew I. Gavil, a law professor at Howard University. “But it would have to be linked to competition. Strictly speaking, privacy is not an antitrust issue.”
Maybe not, but it *is* clear that, to the extent that the US Government is concerned with protecting the privacy of its citizens (versus infringing upon it), at least part of that task *has* been apportioned to the FTC, and I hope that they plan to make privacy a part of its deliberations — and give it a review that’s independent of its consideration of competitiveness.