Google Threat Level Raised to Orange
Much as Google would like to think otherwise, the U.S. Senate isn’t quite ready to rubber-stamp its proposed acquisition of DoubleClick. The top two members of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights–Democrat Herb Kohl of Wisconsin and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah– sent a strongly worded joint letter to the Federal Trade Commission urging it take a particularly hard look at the proposed acquisition.
“The implications of this [deal] for the Internet advertising market–and for the Internet as a whole–are profound and potentially far reaching,” the Senators wrote. “A core part of Google’s business is placing contextual advertising–that is, text-based ads placed on third-party Web sites which are relevant to the content or to the likely reader of the Web site. Google has a dominant market position with respect to the placing of these contextual ads. DoubleClick has a leading market position in placing another form of Internet advertising–display advertising which also resides on third-party Web sites. Industry experts that we spoke to in the course of our inquiry raised serious concerns that combining these two companies’ leading positions in these two forms of Internet advertising could cause significant harm to competition in the Internet advertising marketplace.”
The acquisition is potentially problematic for reasons of privacy as well. “DoubleClick collects an enormous quantity of information on individual Web users’ preferences, and privacy advocates have expressed very serious concerns regarding the consequences of this data coming under the control of Google due to the fact that Google is the dominant Internet search engine and can also track individuals’ search requests,” the senators note. “Therefore, we believe that this deal raises fundamental consumer privacy concerns worthy of serious scrutiny.”
The senators’ arguments echo ones we’ve heard before–from the European Union and Microsoft, and from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Though, as Danny Sullivan notes over at Search Engine Land, they’re a tad bit more hysterical. Certainly, Microsoft’s $6 billion purchase of digital-ad firm aQuantive suggests the barriers to entry in the Internet advertising marketplace aren’t more than knee high. And as for privacy, well, Sun chairman Scott McNealy once said: “You have no privacy, get over it.”