Ending many weeks of speculation and sure to be a disappointment to privacy groups, the US FTC has cleared the way for Google to acquire DoubleClick for $3.1 billion. The European Commission now has to clear the deal or it won’t go through. The EU regulatory body has until April 2, 2008 to make its decision. The Europeans are tougher on these sorts of deals but the FTC approval will put some pressure on the Europeans to bless the acquisition.
While privacy groups on both sides of the Atlantic have vigorously opposed the deal, privacy is not a legally relevant consideration in the antitrust analysis. As the FTC correctly points out:
Although interested parties have raised concerns about the proposed acquisition’s impact on consumer privacy, the Commission observed that such issues are “not unique to Google and DoubleClick,” and “extend to the entire online advertising marketplace.” The Commissioners further wrote that “as the sole purpose of federal antitrust review of mergers and acquisitions is to identify and remedy transactions that harm competition,” the FTC lacks the legal authority to block the transaction on grounds, or require conditions to this transaction, that do not relate to antitrust. Adding, however, that it takes consumer privacy issues very seriously, the Commission cross-referenced its release of a set of proposed behavioral marketing principles that were also announced today.
The European Commission said it will hold hearings on the privacy dimensions of the deal, however. I would guess that the Europeans will force Google to take some concrete measures on privacy as a condition of approving the deal, if it is to be approved.