The Deal
Wednesday, October 22, 
8:36 pm

by Cecile Kohrs Lindell in Washington
[Posted on November 29, 2007 - 7:26 PM]
The Federal Trade Commission is poised to approve Web omnipresence Google Inc.'s $3.1 billion acquisition of online ad provider DoubleClick Inc., without any conditions, according to a lawyer involved in the merger review.

The approval is expected as early as next week, the lawyer said, with the deal likely to close soon afterward.

The deal was announced April 13 and spurred a frenzy of acquisitions, including spurned DoubleClick suitor Microsoft Corp., which consoled itself by buying the target's rival, aQuantive Inc. for nearly $6 billion.

But Microsoft decided not to focus on only its own acquisition and led a charge against the Google-DoubleClick deal in Washington. The DoubleClick deal roiled privacy advocates as well, and those groups complained that the FTC should examine a broad range of consumer privacy-related issues, such as data mining, rather than focusing its merger review on competition issues alone.

Consumer and privacy advocates asked the FTC to either block or impose sweeping conditions on the merger that would put an extensive array of personal data of nearly every Internet user on the globe into the hands of one company. The primary concern of opponents such as the Electronic Privacy Information Center is that the collected information on surfing habits will be sold to marketers without regard to whether Internet users want their viewing trails known.

But antitrust lawyers discounted those issues as not germane to the FTC's premerger authority. Instead, the FTC's bureau of consumer protection could review the practices of the company if, post-merger, people complain about their private information being used without authorization.

Although many on Capitol Hill have asked the FTC to strongly consider the deal's impact on consumer privacy, Democratic Commissioner Jonathan Leibowitz signaled last month that those concerns wouldn't impact the merger review.

The antitrust investigation must focus on potential threats to competition and "can't be about privacy, per se," he said during a two-day FTC symposium examining online privacy.

There is, however, a separate privacy complaint pending against Google that the Electronic Privacy Information Center and other groups have filed at the FTC. And a merger review is still underway in Europe, were the European Commission on Nov. 13, opened an in-depth probe. The Commission has an April 2 deadline to make a final decision. Australian regulators approved the merger Oct. 30.

Since the merger was announced, Google officials have maintained that privacy concerns raised on online advertising should be addressed industrywide, not through the merger review.

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