The Federal Trade Commission will likely consider the privacy issues raised by Google Inc.'s proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick Inc. as part of its antitrust review of the transaction, analysts said Tuesday.
Antitrust reviews generally focus on monopoly concerns, such as whether the combined company will be able to raise prices without fear of competition. But there is precedent for them to address privacy worries, analysts said.
Ari Schwartz, deputy director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group, said "the FTC has looked at consumer protection concerns in the context of a merger," citing the 2001 combination of AOL and Time Warner. In that deal, regulators focused on opening Time Warner's cable systems to competing broadband Internet providers, among other conditions.
Soon after Google announced its plan April 13 to acquire DoubleClick, several consumer advocacy groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, urged the FTC to investigate the privacy implications of the transaction. The groups said in their April 20 complaint that the two companies, when combined, would have access to an unprecedented amount of data on consumers' Web use and Internet search habits.
The FTC should block the acquisition unless Google publicly commits to improving its privacy policies, the groups said last month. The Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group joined the privacy information center in its complaint.
Adam Kovacevich, a Google spokesman, confirmed Tuesday that the FTC is conducting an antitrust review of the deal, the AP reports.
The purchase would get Google further into the market for Web display ads, which includes richer graphic and online banner ads for corporate brands.
DoubleClick offers a digital marketplace that connects ad agencies, marketers and Web site publishers. It has more than 1,500 corporate clients. Klevorn said the investigation ultimately will hinge on whether competition concerns are shared by the companies' customers: advertisers and ad agencies.
"They're just being good cops, checking things out before they let it go forward -- if they let it go forward," Klevorn said.
Klevorn said the investigation also could delve into concerns about privacy that have been raised by critics of the deal. Microsoft has said the deal would provide Google with a huge amount of data about consumer behavior on the Internet.
Under federal antitrust law, would-be merger partners have to wait 30 days while one of the agencies decides whether competitive concerns warrant a full-scale investigation.
When a full investigation is necessary, the agencies require the companies to turn over large numbers of documents related to the deal. They then have another 30 days to decide whether to oppose the deal in court, Reuters reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik