What Google should have said about “Why we’re buying Doubleclick”

Why can’t Google admit to its real reasons for acquiring Doubleclick? It’s not truly candid recent post (by Group Product Manager Alex Kimmier) dodges the key issues. If Google can’t be more honest—and at least admit to real public policy concerns—it’s a strategic blunder (let alone an example of a corporate culture where candor isn’t truly valued). So first, this “official” Google blog should have admitted that there are real privacy concerns with the merger. When you merge the number one online ad search firm (Google) with a leading provider of cookies for display advertising (Doubleclick), in a medium where revenue generation is all based on the collection and targeted use of personal information, the deal rings five-alarm privacy alarm bells. It’s unbelievable—and frankly disquieting—that Google can’t admit this is an serious issue with its proposed $3.1 b takeover of Doubleclick.

Google is also being disingenuous when it discusses the online ad business. For example, in the post it lumps itself together with Yahoo! and MSN when discussing the 40% market share search ads have in the overall online ad market. But the official blog should admit that it’s far and above the dominant force in the search market, both in the U.S. and abroad (with a 64% market share in US search, leaving Yahoo and MSN trailing at 22% and 9% respectively.) It should acknowledge that the one part of the online ad market they don’t yet dominate is display advertising. Through it’s acquisition of Doubleclick, Google will be able to quickly expand its dominance to the rest of the market. It’s not about, as its blog suggests, creating a more “open” platform that can “improve online advertising for consumers, advertisers and publishers.” It’s about tapping into Doubleclick’s blue-blooded client list of Fortune-type companies so Google can better digest that vital part of the online ad market.

But beyond online ad consolidation, we wish to return to privacy and targeting. No matter how useful Google is helping to identify key sources of information, it’s not in the best interests of a democracy to permit a private gatekeeper of so much (continually updated) personal data. Google’s business is advertising: it will do what it must to collect information about each of us so it can personally target us wherever we are. Online advertising is a very powerful medium, utilizing technologies designed to affect our behaviors [pdf] in a variety of ways (including so-called immersive targeting). Google’s expansion—and its apparent inability to acknowledge key civil society concerns—should be part of the media reform debate.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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