Republicans seek privacy hearing on Google-DoubleClick deal

The Republican members of a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee are calling for a public hearing to delve into the data privacy issues surrounding Google's proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick.

Yesterday, 12 Republicans sent a letter requesting the hearing to Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's subcommittee on commerce, trade and consumer protection (download PDF). The letter was signed by all of the Republican members of the subcommittee, except for Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who is an ex-officio member.

In the letter, the legislators said they're concerned that a hearing held Sept. 27 in the Senate on the Google-DoubleClick deal raised more questions about the consumer privacy implications of the proposed merger than were answered.

"We believe it is time for further investigation into the matter, so that we are assured that consumers' interests are being protected," the authors wrote. They added that they want to examine the way in which Google would use the personal information it collects about Internet users.

"Google and DoubleClick would have one of the largest search query databases with one of the world's largest online user behavioral profile databases," the Republicans continued. "The privacy implications of such a merger are enormous, and without an in-depth examination, we and the American public will not fully understand what all of those implications may be."

Rush couldn't be reached for comment on the hearing request. In July, he sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission in which he requested a private briefing on the FTC's investigation of the Google-DoubleClick deal and said that he was "considering holding a hearing" on the matter. But the subcommittee has yet to schedule such a hearing.

Google spokesman Adam Kovacevich said that the company "has taken a number of industry-leading steps to improve privacy for our users, and the success of the DoubleClick acquisition depends on our retaining our users' trust."

Kovacevich also pointed to comments made by FTC Commissioner Jon Liebowitz at a two-day town hall meeting in Washington on consumer protection issues raised by the tracking of online behavior for targeted advertising purposes. Liebowitz said "that online privacy concerns 'really do transcend any particular acquisition,'" According to Kovacevich. "And we think that Congress would be best served by taking an industrywide look at the issue, just as the FTC did."

However, Google confirmed last spring that the FTC had begun investigating the DoubleClick deal after receiving a complaint filed jointly by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. The advocacy groups have voiced concerns about how Google will handle cookies and other data that could be used to identify Internet users.

European regulators are also looking at the competition and privacy issues raised by the proposed merger. However, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last week said that it will not stand in the way of the acquisition.

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This story, "Republicans seek privacy hearing on Google-DoubleClick deal" was originally published by Computerworld.

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