Raising Ethics Issues
Freytag told eWEEK that advertisers are already so concerned about Googles market dominance that they will take their business to the smaller competitors. "We have gotten the first calls already" from Web publishers looking for another display ad distributor. While Adtech is headquartered in Germany, it has opened offices in New York and San Francisco, as well as in the Asia-Pacific region, Freytag said. The DoubleClick buyout, "will speed up the process for us moving into the U.S." he said.Then there is the issue of business ethics and consumer privacy. DoubleClick came under fire by privacy advocates because it tracks what sites Web surfers are visiting and what sort of content they are viewing along with their ad clicking activities.There was even more concern after DoubleClick paid $1.7 billion to acquire Abacus Direct, a data collection service. There were fears that DoubleClick would compromise consumer privacy by combining anonymous Web surfing information that it collected with the personal identity information that Abacus Direct compiled from the Web. In response to such criticism, DoubleClick said it wouldnt integrate the Abacus information with its Web surfing information and instituted business practices to protect Web surfers privacy. But the public concerns remain. Google business tenet No. 6 posted on its corporate site states: "You can make money without doing evil. But the DoubleClick acquisition raises the question of whether Google can remain true to this tenet when it buys a company that only helps it improve its ability to track the publics Web surfing habits. Can any company avoid doing evil when it is driven to grow ever larger by acquiring more assets, by gaining access to huge new stores of Internet user information and constantly looking for new ways to search and mine that information for new revenue generating opportunities? Google already holds tremendous power in its hands because its search engine can track key words that Web surfers enter and what sites they visit from the search results. This power has only increased with the DoubleClick acquisition. Google has tried to demonstrate that it respects users privacy by resisting government demands for information that reveals peoples search habits. But the fact remains that it has to honor any subpoena that is validated by the courts. Having paid top dollar to buy DoubleClick, the company is unlikely to compromise the value of those assets by limiting or cutting back on DoubleClicks data collection capabilities. Since it appears unlikely that the government wont be able to block the DoubleClick acquisition, Google will still have to demonstrate to the public that it wont use any market advantage to consumers detriment. If Google wants to retain users trust and avoid future regulation and litigation, it has to demonstrate every day that it can serve as a trusted guardian of users privacy and the integrity of their personal data. John Pallatto is a veteran journalist in the field of enterprise software and Internet technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis about productivity and business solutions.