The planned merger between Google and the leading provider of ad-serving tools, DoubleClick, will not involve the creation of a single database with consumer-related information, said Google’s Privacy Counsel, Peter Fleischer, in a move aimed to allay growing privacy concerns in Europe.
During a hearing in the European Parliament on 19 January, Fleischer underlined that Google’s interest in buying DoubleClick merely reflects its desire to enter the third-party ad-serving market.
The takeover will not involve merging the two companies’ databases, primarily because “DoubleClick does not own its customers’ data”, Fleischer added.
The online ad company “can only use the data it processes from serving ads to provide aggregate reporting. The data is owned by the publishers or advertisers that DoubleClick works for”, explained Fleischer, adding that “DoubleClick customers would be very displeased if one tried to undo their contractual relationships by sharing information between advertisers”.
Many in Brussels are pushing for the case to be read as a matter of privacy and security instead of merely a competition issue. However, the Commission lacks the authority to approach the topic from this perspective, as privacy protection is a national competence (see EURACTIV 14/01/08).
Regardless of the outcome of the merger, Google’s activities are being increasingly questioned in Europe, with concerns mainly centred on the collection of personal data without the explicit consent or even the awareness of consumers.
Specifically, Google’s practice of providing targeted advertising after having collected personal data on users – such as queries carried out on its search engine and IP addresses or by scanning the content of emails, such as those of its own Gmail users, is increasingly under attack.
In response, Google officials have replied that “no human being other than the user ever reads the messages sent or received on Gmail. It is simply a computer matching up key words in people’s emails with targeted ads”.
Currently, the dossier is in the hands of DG Competition and is under examination concerning potential violations of antitrust rules in the online advertising intermediary market.