Google deal for ad firm DoubleClick poses privacy risks

Friday, 20 April 2007 - 10:42pm IST | Agency: AFP

Activist groups asked US regulators to block Google's takeover of the online ad firm, saying it would give the Internet giant unprecedented access to personal data.

WASHINGTON: Three activist groups asked US regulators on Friday to block Google's takeover of online ad firm DoubleClick, saying it would pose privacy risks by giving the Internet giant unprecedented access to personal data.   

"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," said the complaint lodged with the Federal Trade Commission. "Moreover, Google will operate with virtually no legal obligation to ensure the privacy, security, and accuracy of the personal data that it collects."   

The complaint was filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center along with the Center for Digital Democracy and the US Public Interest Research Group, all of which are involved in online privacy issues.   

The groups said both companies have shown shortcomings in privacy issues that raise questions about the 3.1-billion-dollar takeover announced by Google earlier this week.   

The complaint said the deal poses risks for Internet users in the US and worldwide.   

"The acquisition of DoubleClick will permit Google to track both a person's Internet searches and a person's web site visits," it said.    

"This could impact the privacy interests of 233 million Internet users in North America, 314 million Internet users in Europe, and more than 1.1 billion Internet users around the world."   

Responding to the announcement, Google deputy general counsel Nicole Wong said there was "no basis for such a complaint." "User, advertiser and publisher trust is paramount to the success of our business and to the success of the acquisition," the Google attorney said in a statement.   

"We can't imagine taking any actions that would undermine these relationships or the trust people have in using our products and services."   

DoubleClick said meanwhile that some reports "have incorrectly suggested that data collected by the company's online display advertising technology could be used by Google, or combined with information owned by Google. This is simply not the case."   

DoubleClick said Google "would not be able to match its search data to the data collected by DoubleClick," because of contractual restrictions.   

The complaint noted that the FTC had previously cited DoubleClick for its use of "web bugs" or "cookies" to track users' progress within websites and collect information about the user.   

They also noted that Google stores its users' search terms in a way that can identify them through their Internet Protocol (IP) address.   

Because this practice is poorly disclosed, the groups said "Google's representations concerning its data retention practices were, and are, deceptive practices."   

Both DoubleClick and Google, along with many other Internet firms, use files called "cookies" that are installed when an Internet user visits a web page, clicks on an ad or logs into a website.   

Companies say this simplifies browsing for users who repeatedly visit certain websites, but it also allows browsing habits to be tracked back to the individual computer or user.   

Google said last month it would begin routinely purging its data banks of information that identifies search engine users in order to better shield their anonymity.   

DoubleClick came under fire several years ago from consumer advocacy groups that accused it of using "cookies" without getting permission from the Internet users.   

It negotiated a settlement in 2002 that included being more open about what data it keeps while agreeing to purge some of the data it stores within three months of its collection.

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