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German watchdog opposes Google purchase of DoubleClick

Double trouble for privacy

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The proposed $3.1bn merger of search giant Google and online advertising company DoubleClick would lead to "a massive violation of data privacy rights", a German privacy watchdog has warned.

The Data Protection Commissioner of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein Thilo Weichert has written to Europe's Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes expressing his view that the merger would allow the combined company unprecedented access to personal data about users.

"At present we have to assume that in the event of a takeover of DoubleClick the databases of that company will be integrated into those of Google, with the result that fundamental provisions of the European Data Protection Directive will be violated," he said, according to Germany's Heise Online.

Wiechert said access to the combined database would give the company access to highly detailed personal information. "Such an approach contradicts fundamental data privacy principles of the European Union: limited specific use, transparency, the right to object, the protection of sensitive data and the right to having data deleted," he wrote.

Google is already under fire in Europe over its use of identifying information linking users to their internet searches. When it offered to delete these after 18 to 24 months earlier this year, the fact the data had been kept indefinitely caused outrage among users and privacy regulators.

Google is facing competition hurdles in Europe and the US over its proposed acquisition of DoubleClick. Google's dominance in internet search combined with DoubleClick's position as a leading advertising firm have led to concerns about privacy and about competition issues.

Google appeared before a Senate hearing in the US last week to argue that the deal would not create an internet advertising monopoly.

A complaint has also been filed with Kroes by the European Consumers' Organisation (BEUC). "We fear that Google will vertically-leverage (bundle/tie) its keyword search dominance with DoubleClick's leadership in online banner/video display advertising, and with its Google-YouTube dominance in video search," said that complaint.

"This vertical combination could give Google-DoubleClick clear dominance on the overall market for advertisements provided to third-party websites. Google alone currently holds a 90 per cent share of the search market in Germany, nearly a 75 per cent in the UK, around 82 per cent share in France and 90 per cent in Spain.

"Never before has one single company had the market and technological power to collect and exploit so much information about what a user does on the Internet," said the complaint. "With DoubleClick's cookie-tracking technologies, and Google's ever-increasing breadth of online services (from mail and messaging, to mapping, electronic payment, office applications, user-generated video and blogging spaces, and so on), a particular user’s online activities will be trackable by a single entity on a much more continuous and universal level than ever before."

The BEUC said that this gathering of data was "in clear violation of users' privacy rights".

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