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FTC rubberstamps Google DoubleClick merger

But not without dissent

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The FTC has voted to approve Google's of web advertising powerhouse DoubleClick, after an eight month investigation - but not without a dissenting voice.

A 4:1 majority of commissioners concluded that the market was healthy and didn't warrant intervention in the $3bn deal.

"Current competition among firms in this market is vigorous, and will likely increase," the FTC said in a statement. The FTC also judged that the two were in similar but separate businesses:

Because the evidence failed to show that DoubleClick has market power in the third party ad serving markets, it is unlikely that Google could effectively foreclose competition in the related ad intermediation market following the acquisition.

In a dissenting opinion, however, Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour said that the majority had failed to see where the market was going, and anticipate the consequences of a combined Google/DoubleClick (pdf, 90kb). Harbour wrote that the privacy implications were disturbing.

"The merged firm will be capable of dominating the 'Database of Intentions'," she predicted.

This, she predicted, could give rise to network effects where rivals are unable to match the accuracy of the Google/Doubleclick customer preference database, which would allow the merged entity to play off the classified and display markets against each other.

"Why would Google pay billions of dollars for DoubleClick, in an effort to keep DoubleClick out of the hands of competitors, if Google does not intend to combine the two firms’ valuable datasets?" she asked.

Harbour also suggested that Google is unlikely to bring its own third-party ad-serving software to market now.

"It is difficult to believe that Google – with a market capitalization of nearly $207 billion, a top-notch engineering team, and a wealth of connections among publishers and advertisers – would have been unable to refine its beta product and release a highly competitive third party ad serving solution of its own. Third party ad serving customers likely would have benefitted from both price and innovation competition as a result of Google’s entry efforts," she added.

"We have been protecting our users' privacy since our inception, and will continue to innovate in how we safeguard their information and maintain their trust," said the Google CEO in a canned statement.

The merger is unlikely to have such a smooth passage in Europe, where the Competition Commission has extended its enquiry into the deal.

Yesterday BEUC, a coalition of 40 consumer groups declared its opposition to the merger to the EU Competition Commission - predicting that "Google’s monopoly will mean higher costs for advertisers and lower advertising revenues for web publishers." ®

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