FTC Fails to Protect Consumers, Competition, Citizens and Privacy: Google takeover of DoubleClick

“The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sidestepped its responsibility today when it approved the merger of two companies whose new, extended data-collection reach will give it unprecedented access to track our every move throughout the digital landscape. By permitting Google to combine the personal details, gleaned from our searches online and YouTube downloads, with the vast repository of information collected by DoubleClick, the FTC has sanctioned the creation of a new digital data colossus. The FTC is supposed to protect the privacy of Americans in the digital age. The excuse offered by the majority of the commission–that consumer privacy can’t be addressed by current antitrust law–reveals a lack of leadership and determination to protect U.S. consumers. It’s clear that this merger—and the ones that follow—will be about companies creating the twenty-first-century’s equivalent of railroad, steel, and oil monopolies in the past. Monopolistic control over consumer data is both anti-competitive and a threat to privacy.

“Despite the FTC’s claims, privacy is most certainly an anti-trust issue. A key component of the online market dominance that companies such as Google have achieved is the aggregation and analysis of consumer profiles, including the merger of far-flung data sets and vast data warehouses that only a handful of companies now have at their disposal.

“Since the merger was announced, CDD has provided abundant evidence to the FTC that Google will now be able to extend still further its market dominance over online advertising. But several commissioners mistakenly believe that we are still living back in the dot-com boom of the 1990s, when barriers to market entry were low. Its analysis of the market is flawed. With today’s decision, the FTC is helping ensure that U.S. consumers will have to live under the shadow of an even bigger digital giant, with a privacy time bomb ticking in the background.”

“Having side-stepped its responsibility to protect both competition and privacy, advocates will press the European Commission to impose the necessary safeguards on the proposed Google acquisition of DoubleClick. Congress too will need to conduct oversight hearings into how the FTC conducted this merger review. Staff privacy principles put out for comment iare not a substitution for adopting specific safeguards for this merger.

“CDD especially commends Commissioner Pamela Harbour, who dissented today, for her insightful and independent critique. Commissioner Jon Leibowitz also raised the critical privacy issues in his thoughtful separate statement.

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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