The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Privacy Concerns Surround Proposed Google, DoubleClick Merger

by Megan Tady

Apr. 23, 2007 – Privacy advocates are attempting to thwart a merger between Google and an online marketing agency, fearing the deal could further erode Internet users’ privacy.

This month, Google announced its acquisition of DoubleClick for $3.1 billion, saying the merger would allow better "targeting, serving and analyzing [of] online ads." In order to stealthily mine consumers’ information for marketing purposes, both companies use "cookies" to keep track of Internet users’ browsing history. They also employ "web beacons" to detect when users have browsed a page or opened an e-mail. Google also stores users’ search histories.

The move is most threatening because it would provide a singularly powerful firm with access to information gathered by countless sites that display advertising generated by either DoubleClick or Google. Google could then track an individual browser across a vast array of sites that employ either company’s services. Google would also be accumulating the massive amount of data DoubleClick has obtained since the early days of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990s.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and the US Public Interest Research Groups asked a government regulatory body last Friday to halt the merger and to investigate Google's tracking and data-collection practices.

"At this time, there is simply no consumer privacy issue more pressing for the Commission to consider than Google’s plan to combine the search histories and website visit records of Internet users," the complaint to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stated.

As reported by The NewStandard in November, Internet companies and various online ad agencies, use an array technologies to track users’ virtual footprints, monitor online purchases, count how many times a user clicks a link and piece together behavioral profiles based on what users search for and ultimately buy.

Currently, the only law that specifically regulates online privacy applies to children under 13 years old, according to the FTC.

While Google does maintain a privacy policy, critics say Google does not make it obvious to users that it tracks their behavior. DoubleClick self-regulates its privacy practices through its adoption of the voluntary Network Advertising Initiative, which critics have called toothless.

Nicole Wong, Google’s deputy general counsel, told the Washington Post that the groups’ complaint has no basis. "User, advertiser and publisher trust is paramount to the success of our business and to the success of our acquisition," Wong said. "We can't imagine taking any actions that would undermine these relationships or the trust people have in using our products and service."

The complainants are also urging the FTC to force DoubleClick to remove user-identified cookies from records and databases before the merger and to order Google to destroy cookies from searches that could personally identify users.

Send to Friends Respond to Editors or Reporter

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Megan Tady is a staff journalist.

Recent contributions by Megan Tady: