Monday, April 23, 2007

Google-DoubleClick Merger Privacy Threat

From Reuters:

Consumer privacy groups on Friday sought to derail Google Inc.'s $3.1 billion deal to buy online ad supplier DoubleClick Inc., filing a complaint with U.S. regulators to block the merger on privacy grounds.

Groups led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center have filed the complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission arguing the merger would violate agreed limits on how much data advertisers collect on consumers and seeking an injunction.

"Google's proposed acquisition of DoubleClick will give one company access to more information about the Internet activities of consumers than any other company in the world," the complaint by the privacy activist groups argues.

DoubleClick provides graphical ads from corporate marketers on thousands of sites across the Web. With the proposed merger, Google would emerge as an even more powerful force in the online ad market. Both Google and DoubleClick are denying that their data tracking capabilities would also be merged.

EPIC, along with the CDD (Centre for Digital Democracy) and US PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) are concerned about Google’s ability to record, analyze, track, and profile the activities of Internet users with data that is both personally identifiable and data that is not personally identifiable. The complaint urges the Federal Trade Commission to require Google to present a public plan to comply with well-established government and industry privacy standards such as the OECD Privacy Guidelines. The OECD guidelines include a fundamental principle of openness:
There should be a general policy of openness about developments, practices and
policies with respect to personal data. Means should be readily available of
establishing the existence and nature of personal data, and the main purposes of
their use, as well as the identity and usual residence of the data

EPIC led the move in 2000 to prevent DoubleClick from automatically combining data from a national marketing database it had acquired and its own anonymous data collected from the computers of Web surfers. DoubleClick eventually backed down and provided users with an “opt-out” option.

Corporate mergers of this type are a serious threat to privacy as search histories and web site visits could be combined, allowing an individual's activities to be tracked across a wide range of websites. In the U.S., the only law that specifically regulates privacy applies to children under the age of 13. EPIC is urging strong privacy legislation, similar to that in the EU and in Canada.

1 comment:

Becky C. said...

Yes, it is time folks get used to the idea that Google is not a cadre of hippies. And Doubleclick stuff is the most frequently removed spyware/adware on my computer.