Week in review: Google's DoubleClick deletion dilemma

Fight over megamerger takes intriguing turns, while social networks open developer platforms. Also: celebrating Commodore 64's legacy.

The controversial fight over Google's proposed acquisition of online ad firm DoubleClick took some politically intriguing turns this week that opponents hope will imperil the $3 billion merger.

It began when two privacy groups asked the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission to recuse herself from the agency's review of proposed acquisition because her husband's law firm is advising DoubleClick on antitrust. In addition, FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras used to work at the law firm, called Jones Day, according to a complaint about the matter sent to the FTC by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy.

An FTC representative on Wednesday said the chairman was reviewing the petition with the agency's chief ethics officer.

"We learned only yesterday that Jones Day is representing DoubleClick before the European Commission, not the (U.S.) Federal Trade Commission," FTC spokeswoman Claudia Bourne Farrell said on Wednesday. "Jones Day has not appeared before the FTC on this matter."

However, that would seem to conflict with what the Jones Day site said:

"Jones Day is advising DoubleClick Inc., the digital marketing technology provider, on the international and U.S. antitrust and competition law aspects of its planned $3.1 billion acquisition by Google Inc."

Soon after CNET News.com's article on the controversy appeared, Jones Day deleted that Web page, and it's now blank. Ironically, Google's cached copy provides the information that was erased from the site.

There are two likely explanations: one, Jones Day is in fact representing DoubleClick before the FTC and is reluctant to acknowledge it; or two, the Jones Day Webmaster innocently used imprecise language and the law firm truly was focused on Europe alone. Jones Day claims it's the latter, saying the statement was removed because it was confusing.

Then on Friday, Majoras said she will not recuse herself, arguing that such an action is not warranted. "My husband does not represent any party in the Google-DoubleClick matter," Majoras said in a statement. "He is in no way connected to the matter, nor are any of the parties to the matter otherwise currently his clients."

The subtext here is that the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy are trying to embarrass Majoras into recusing herself, which would remove a Republican vote likely to be more sympathetic to free market arguments. That would leave two Republicans and two Democrats left to vote.

The FTC is reviewing the proposed merger, which Microsoft and a band of pro-regulatory groups are hoping to derail it. The FTC could allow the deal to proceed, attempt to block it, or attempt to impose conditions. In Europe, antitrust bureaucrats said last month that they were conducting their own investigation and would make a decision by April 2, 2008.

Meanwhile, a top Republican in the House of Representatives is demanding that Google answer a barrage of questions about privacy, some of which are related to the proposed DoubleClick purchase. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), a critic of the proposed merger, last month complained in a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt that the company had initially agreed to let his aides visit the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif., but then didn't confirm a date.

Barton is the senior Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has Internet regulation as one of its responsibilities. Most of Barton's 24 questions deal with what Google does with search queries, how long information is kept, what data will be merged with DoubleClick's, and how the company performs its partial anonymization of search results.

CNET News.com readers seemed uninterested in the political intrigue, preferring instead to focus on Google's privacy policy.

"Lame partisanship aside, I welcome any investigation of Google and its excessively long data retention practices," wrote one reader to the News.com TalkBack forum.

Tech of yesteryear
Putting aside the race to build tomorrow's killer tech for a night, many in the tech community gathered to celebrate what may be the best-selling computer of all time, the Commodore 64.

Hundreds of Silicon Valley's best and brightest came out to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., to celebrate the machine's 25th anniversary. At the celebration Monday night, Commodore founder Jack Tramiel, who was the guest of honor during a rare public appearance, told the gathered crowd that the C64 sold between 20 million and 30 million units, a staggering number.

When asked if he thought there had been a culture war between Apple IIe owners and C64 users, Tramiel said no. How could there be a culture war, he asked, when one platform has 95 percent of the users?

Later, during a panel discussion, Tramiel offered another observation on the subject while riffing on the fact that the Apple IIe cost more than three times as much as the Commodore 64: "We made machines for the masses; (Apple) made machines for the classes."

The event also yielded another nugget: the first-ever meeting of Tramiel and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. It's hard to imagine how Wozniak and Tramiel couldn't have met before, given that the two were such important figures in the early years of personal computers.

During the event, Tramiel took the time to talk to CNET News.com about his most famous creation and about the current state of personal computers.

The tech world is also observing the 60th anniversary of a seminal creation. On December 16, 1947, John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, two Bell Labs researchers, built the world's first transistor.

Their device, called a point contract transistor, conducted electricity and amplified signals, a job then handled by bulky and delicate vacuum tubes and other components.

Their colleague William Shockley followed soon after with junction transistors. Although Bardeen and Brattain's creation was first, Shockley's device actually became the basis for a scientific and industrial juggernaut.

Besides making it easier to store information and send signals, transistors had another, somewhat unanticipated characteristic. They could be shrunk at a consistent rate over time, which has made electronic products steadily cheaper and faster.

Getting social
Facebook has announced that the architecture for its developer platform will be made available to other social-networking sites, potentially rendering moot the criticism that its strategy is too "closed"--and potentially dealing a huge blow to Google's yet-to-launch OpenSocial initiative.

Facebook senior platform manager Ami Vora posted a blog entry with the announcement. "(We) want to share the benefits of our work by enabling other social sites to use our platform architecture as a model," Vora wrote. "In fact, we'll even license the Facebook Platform methods and tags to other platforms." A developer page elaborates that "the 100,000 developers currently building Facebook applications can make their applications available on other social sites with no extra work."

In the official wording from Facebook, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based social network is "making its platform architecture available as a model for other social sites" and sees this as the natural evolution of a constantly changing product.

This announcement comes in the wake of three OpenSocial partners--LinkedIn, Friendster, and Bebo--all releasing their own developer platform initiatives independent of the Google-run program.

Bebo specifically designed its developer code to be compatible with Facebook's. As it turns out, that's all part of Facebook's strategy; Bebo is the first major social network to implement this new "open" platform code from Facebook.

Meanwhile, Friendster fully launched its developer platform with more than 180 applications available to its 56 million registered users. According to the social network, the platform is going to be as "open" as possible to make it easy for applications designed for other sites to make their way to Friendster, and vice versa. Friendster is a partner in the Google-led OpenSocial initiative and has said that OpenSocial APIs will be integrated into the Friendster Developer Platform when the much-stalled OpenSocial is "completed and secure."

Also of note
Breaking its silence on one of the worst-kept secrets in portable computers, Dell unveiled its Latitude XT Tablet PC, its first product in the category...After putting a two-unit limit on purchases of the iPhone back in October, Apple quietly raised the limit back to five...Microsoft released its December 2007 security bulletin, which includes seven updates: three are designated as critical by the software giant and four are deemed important.

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