Google Policy Blog Fails to Address Yahoo! Deal & Threat to Competition & Privacy

Google’s post today by Tim Armstrong on why its proposed deal with Yahoo! isn’t a competition problem attempts to weave and spin this critical issue. It’s very revealing as well about Google’s own failure to develop into a company which honestly engages in self-examination and reflection. As one can see from the current melt-down of the financial markets, making money shouldn’t be the sole motivation for behavior. Google should have been able to acknowledge that a major deal with its leading search competitor raises serious questions worthy of broad debate and critical analysis.

The failure of Google to respond to the concerns raised by the World Association of Newspapers this week is reflective of this. Newspapers and content publishers are rightly worried about ensuring a diversity of funding sources for the production of news and other information necessary for a democratic society. It’s not as simple as Google’s Tim Armstrong (who wrote today’s post) suggests, that this deal with give consumers “relevant ads” and help keep Yahoo afloat as a robust competitor. In fact, Armstrong and Google, we believe, aren’t being candid here. When an online ad company dismantles (or turns over) a core part of its search function to its leading competitor, it becomes fatally wounded. As Google knows all well, search and display (and online content) are all intertwined. Yahoo’s future, in my opinion, as a full service online ad company is endangered, as more businesses realize that its search ad business relies increasingly on Google.

There are many troubling privacy issues with this deal, something Mr. Armstrong tries to dismiss by saying that [our emphasis]: “[W]e have taken steps in the Yahoo! agreement to make sure that neither company has access to personally identifiable user information from the other company.” But that leaves open an array of personal data collection points, such as cookies, IP addresses, and other statistical analysis online related data. (The failure, by the way, for the privacy issues of the proposed deal to be investigated by the FTC and Congress, is also disturbing).

Mr. Armstrong is Google’s “President, Advertising and Commerce, North America.” He directs their online ad sales. In responding to concerns about competition in the online advertising market–given its links to broader societal concerns–more than just assurances from the sales department is required.

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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