GOP Again Questions Google-DoubleClick Merger

A House Republican leader is complaining that Google is stonewalling on deal details.

The privacy implications of Google's proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick continues to raise concerns among House Republicans. The deal is currently under regulatory scrutiny at the Federal Trade Commission.

The acquisition would bring together two of the biggest players in online advertising. Google's text-based AdSense business is based on clickable links, while DoubleClick's technology places targeted banner ads and other display advertising on popular online sites.

House Republicans have repeatedly questioned the deal and apparently a Nov. 6 private meeting between Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, co-founder of the House Privacy Caucus and the ranking GOP member on the Commerce and Energy Committee, failed to assuage the lawmakers' concerns.

Following the meeting, Barton wrote a letter to Google officials to request that two lawyers from the House Energy and Commerce Committee be allowed to visit Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters to get a first-hand briefing on the company's privacy policies.

"Google officials with whom we spoke deemed the dates inconvenient, and the request was denied," Barton wrote in a Dec. 12 letter to Schmidt. "Since then, all efforts to reach a mutually agreeable time have been rebuffed, and it begins to seem that no date for a visit is sufficiently convenient to Google. Your warm initial invitation followed by Google's chilly response to a proposed visit by Committee counsels is disconcerting."

The letter then followed with 24 detailed questions to Schmidt about the merger and Google's policies on privacy, data retention and what the company does with the data. Barton set a Dec. 18 deadline for a Google reply.

"I believe Google's participation in our research into and consideration of the consumer protection implications of a merger of any online search engine and any behavioral or targeted advertising firm is vital to crafting sound national policy," Barton wrote.

A Google spokesperson told eWEEK that the company was "surprised" at Barton's response. According to the spokesperson, Barton's staff requested to visit Mountain View on Nov. 27 or 28, when Congress was out of session, but most Google officials were in Florida on those dates attending the YouTube conference.

The Google spokesperson said the committee staff did not request any other dates for a meeting and did not respond to a Google suggestion that they meet in Google's Washington offices.

Republican members of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee first expressed concerns about the deal in early November.

"They say they just want their ads to match our behavior," Barton said at the time. "But I wonder if the intentional collection and coordination of all that personal data about us is such a good idea, and I wonder if I'm the only one who is feeling a little uncomfortable about it."

At a September Senate hearing on the merger, Google Chief Legal Counsel David Drummond contended that the deal does not foreclose other companies from competing in the online advertising market. Drummond pointed to Microsoft's $6 billion acquisition of online advertising firm aQuantive, which already has received the FTC's blessing. He also mentioned Yahoo's deal to buy Right Media and AOL's purchase of AdTech and Tacoda as proof of a vibrant online ad market.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and U.S. PIRG filed an April 20 FTC complaint shortly after Google announced the deal, arguing the acquisition will give Google unprecedented ability to "record, analyze, track and profile" the activities of Internet users.

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