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Senators take more antitrust and privacy shots at Google

The merger of Google and Doubleclick may mean a really bad privacy problem, Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights says.

A letter from the top two ranking members of the Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights, Democrat Herb Kohl and Republican Orrin Hatch, seeks to chill Google's proposed acquisition of DoubleClick on antitrust grounds:

Antitrust regulators need to be wary to guard against the creation of a powerful Internet conglomerate able to extend its market power in one market into adjacent markets, to the detriment of competition and consumers.

This might not have seemed like much of a threat, even a year or two ago, but as the online world increasingly merges with the offline world, the threat becomes more palpable.

My primary concern with the deal isn't about advertising market share, but rather about privacy, as the senators also call out:

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. Therefore, we believe that this deal raises fundamental consumer privacy concerns worthy of serious scrutiny.

This is the big issue. I'm confident that advertising--Web-based and otherwise--will take us in all sorts of directions, and that the future of the Web is not necessarily ad-based. But the more immediate issue is privacy. Google knows more and more about me every day, and I'm not sure that I want to give it a big dump of DoubleClick's data.

(By the way, this is one reason I prefer Openad's approach to online advertising. It leaves control of data in its customers' hands, not its own. Open source and open data are much safer choices for Web-based advertising.)

Google, for its part, responded that it had "already discussed the privacy and market share questions with the FTC...(and so it) remain(s) confident that the FTC will conclude that this deal is good for consumers, advertisers, and Web site publishers." Maybe. But this is one where the stakes are too high for getting it wrong.

See also Nick Carr's thoughts on the matter.