April 17, 2007 7:00 PM PDT

Privacy concerns dog Google-DoubleClick deal

There is growing unease among consumer privacy advocates over Google's proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of DoubleClick.

How will the search-advertising powerhouse treat the massive amounts of data it already stores on people's search histories, once it also has at its disposal a storehouse of data on people's surfing habits from DoubleClick, the No. 1 digital ad-serving company?

Specifically, will Google combine the two data systems to map not only what someone searches for, but also which sites they visit, videos they watch and ads they click across the Web in order to better target marketers' promotions?

"It leaves too much personal information about all of us in one company's hands--Google's," said Jeff Chester, founder and executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy watchdog. The CDD has called on the Federal Trade Commission and European Union to stop the merger for privacy and anticompetitive concerns.

On Monday, Microsoft (which reportedly was also in talks to acquire DoubleClick) and AT&T stoked those fears and also asked the FTC to examine the merger for anticompetitive issues around online advertising.

Google says such fears are unwarranted. (The deal is expected to close later this year.) When asked about such worries Tuesday at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, Google CEO Eric Schmidt replied that the company recognizes the importance of privacy and making people comfortable with its practices. He speculated that Google could create an opt-in system for consumers or maintain separate data storehouses.

"It's a legitimate concern. If we lose our advertisers' support or end-user support, the company goes kaput," Schmidt said.

Click here to Play

Video: Google's Schmidt talks DoubleClick deal
At Web 2.0 Expo, CEO discusses companies' synergies

Nicole Wong, Google's deputy general counsel, said in a statement that "users will benefit from our commitment to protecting user privacy following the acquisition." She told the Los Angeles Times that the company hopes to merge the "nonpersonally identifiable data" from Google and DoubleClick to better target ads. She said that could help prevent consumers from being bombarded with repetitive promotions. Personally identifiable data like names and e-mail addresses will be kept apart.

Schmidt and Wong's assurances notwithstanding, privacy advocates worry that Google's vision for protecting users' personal information on the Web, and therefore its privacy policies and practices, haven't yet caught up with the breakneck pace of the company's expansion. DoubleClick was intensely criticized for the way it handled users' personal information during the dot-com boom.

"This is bringing together two very large advertising networks. To the extent that information is being centralized raises concerns that it could become a target" for hackers or overzealous government investigators, said Kurt Opsahl, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a legal advocacy group. "Google said it has no plans to integrate the two services...but that doesn't mean that later, you might not develop those plans."

During the dot-com bubble, DoubleClick was to online advertising what Google is to Web search today. The company dominated the field so much that when it bought offline direct marketer Abacus and eventually began combining data on customers' real-world buying habits with their online behaviors, consumer privacy advocates sounded warning bells.

The FTC stepped in, and DoubleClick eventually backed away from the consumer media business and from targeting ads based on people's behavior.

Part of DoubleClick's retreat could be attributed to increased competition: Google and Yahoo became advertising powerhouses and made DoubleClick's business not as lucrative as it once was.

The prize: the display ad market
For Google, the DoubleClick deal is about breaking open the display-advertising market on the Web in the way it did with search marketing, media executives say.

By turning search advertising into an opportunity for anyone with a credit card and Web page, Google has attracted more than a million advertisers for its search ad marketplace, according to one advertising executive. But display advertising on the Web is still dominated by about 1,000 of the largest marketers.

With DoubleClick, Google could try to democratize display and rich-media ads the same way as it did with search, expanding the number of advertisers in the mix. In turn, it could boost demand for ad-serving technology that DoubleClick sells.

Media executives estimate that DoubleClick reaches between 80 percent and 85 percent of the Web population, given that such a high percentage of publishers and advertisers use its back-end ad-serving technology. (Its customers include Time Warner's AOL and Viacom's MTV Networks.)

Although DoubleClick's technology delivers the ads, the company does not collect personal information about Web surfers, nor does it target ads based on personal preferences, according to the company. Rather, it says its customers--the publishers and advertisers--own data on consumers.

DoubleClick doesn't need to collect personal information in order to target ads, privacy advocates say. With the placement of tracking cookies on individual computers, the company has access to a given computer's Internet Protocol address, as well as a record of sites it has visited.

"The question for DoubleClick is not whether they own the data but whether they store it," Opsahl said. "They have a storehouse of information that could be later accessed by a third party."

CONTINUED: Nightmare scenario…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
DoubleClick Inc., Eric Schmidt, Google Inc., Internet search advertising, dot-com

10 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
I trust Google
In the past, when a company becomes as big as Google, there is always a sense that they are up to something secretive and unmoral. But I do not think that this will be the case with Google. I think they focus very hard on pleasing their customers and doing what's right. I think they are making the world a better place, and making some money while doing it. Naturally they are trying to spread themselves and want to be the best. Naturally they want to grow and evolve and develop as a company. But I do not think what they are doing is necessarily evil. I don't think they have bad intentions. No business is perfect, but Google comes pretty darn close.
Posted by coryschulz (326 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why trust Google?
The only reason everybody likes Google is because they aren't Microsoft. Google is assumed to be the perfect company, working only for their customers; in reality, they censor search results in China, and in general everything they do is for the sole purpose of making money and gaining power.

Take the illegal copying of books for example. It's blatant violation of copyright law. Google thinks they can take everything that anybody else has created and offer it for free, while putting their own ads around it to make money for themselves. An excellent "do-good" idea: pretend to be freeing information when you are really stealing it.

Google is no better than Microsoft was, and is worse than Microsoft now.
Posted by istill316 (199 comments )
Link Flag
Google Reputation at a crossroads
I like the search that g. provides.. good products sell themselves. [napster, utoob etc]
I hate their tool bar, & yahoo's as well..it's too possive.
Now, Double clik has a very bad indelible reputation.. i go [and always will] to great lengths to block any thing from dblclk. I suspect/assume they still sneak in malware to the unwary regardless of damages to users, especially the less technical, part time users. (innocents)
Google needs to erase dblclk...and all its practises.

Agressive advertising indicates a bad product. Ex/ If a crapware is forced on me when i buy a computer, then i automatically rid that from computer and take extra care to avoid that Co. everafter. Since i don't like trickery & force used on me. EG: its the main reason i will never use Rxxxx, you don't need the full sp. to know who that is lol thats how bad their agression has been.
too bad that their huge advertising $ is automatically trashed.. dont the adv. execs know how most folks feel about this?

Google may suffer huge loss of loyalty, should any dblclk techniques show up in their products. If i can not filter out the agressive tactics when using google search... i will ban it from my systems forever.
I hope Google sees the folly of trying to squeeze more out of advertising than people want to give. On other hand, if Google can clean up the adv. techniques and prove the same.. more loyalty will be created, this means a public evisceration of dblclk.

They have taken on a very bad stain.... my guard is up even now...since they have joined with the equivalent of a Burglar.[spyware/malware is burglary]
Dblclk crashed me a few times in past.. They are never going to be forgiven, never, never, ever.. for that since they lied about it & keep on with malware. even if i were inaccurate as of now, the impression is indelible.. Reformat the whole deal, publicly, or dump it!

Google could get some massive public hero points by umasking (reveal & disavow all past dblclk practises) publicly Slaying that beast...If they dare :) thats what i'd do if i were google exec. then public would probably erect a monument to Google for that.. Thats the kind of loyalty that lasts and lasts...
Jsta thought from a consumer...
Hey google! :) are you listening? i will be soo happy if you slay my old enemy, the burglar.(cc google cust support)
Posted by jstacat (7 comments )
Link Flag
business is about business
Never feel for a businessman. After all of this, what has been really intended is profit.

"The filtering system was supposed to have launched last year at YouTube, which Google acquired for $1.6 billion in October 2006. Delays in rolling it out have angered movie and television executives. Executives at NBC and Viacom have accused Google of dragging its feet on preventing YouTube users from uploading clips from hit shows and movies."

They had the technology to filter the uploads, but they did not want to employ it so soon because they were arrogant enough that they felt they could get around the laws; and they rather got meaningless attacks by other companies like Viacom while they were making millions of millions of dollars from selling advertisement on the popular video-sharing website.
Posted by iRhapsody (46 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Get over it people.. install adblock plus for firefox
There is a great free utility called adblock plus which will block ads from doubleclick, google, yes even the annoying flash ads on this website. Plus it auto updates every night to download more filters. It is free and easy to use

<a class="jive-link-external" href="https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865" target="_newWindow">https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/1865</a>

To block in internet explorer and all other programs which use the internet.

You can also add a customized hosts file, but those get a little messier to maintain. You can google for otheres but here is an example of one

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm" target="_newWindow">http://www.mvps.org/winhelp2002/hosts.htm</a>

KieranMullen
Posted by kieranmullen (1070 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What is Google really concentrating on?
Their DoubleClick Deal? Legal Problems? YouTube technology? Advertising Monopoly? One thing they are not concentrating on is making their search engine better, their utilities better, and adding any real innovation in their online products. Wow Google Earth, that was exciting for a few minutes. .. They are growing too much, too fast. Which can be great for the company and it's shareholders, but bad for the consumers who use &#38; champion their services.

Why would you trust Google? Remember the privacy/security problems with their Desktop Search? We have seen this before and we will see it again. Remember when Apple was King (then went to crap), then Microsoft (9ME,Office XP,Vista, ugh), now Google. Apple, at least reinvented itself (when Jobs Returned) with REAL innovation and is now reaping its rewards. The Google now, is not the Google of old. How little we forget....
Posted by ZeroJCF (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Google is Evil?
I hear a lot of people whining about Google Privacy. And while I agree about your comments about Microsoft and Apple (still pretty bad though in my opinion) but when it comes to Google, I get it free, and with very few ads.

I've yet to encounter any spooky privacy issues that some people have been complaining about.

You could be right, I just haven't seen any evidence. And if any, nothing like AOL Search's insane scandal.
Posted by AdemoS (8 comments )
Link Flag
Linux, Et Ux
Google should make ad blocks unneccesary.. that would be common hospitality for their valued customer? why should i have to wrangle around with small s-ware co who bring own raft of problems to my computer (zone, p cillin &#38; etc good example)
I have recently begun a full court press to get with linux...ever Since the Vista Debacle. MSFT cust support is ummm, not friendly, to say the least!
The entire world would much rather have had an SP-3 than the current headache, which is bound to become a planet sized Migraine.. mark my words...
i have already as of 8 mo ago, abandoned the MSFT mail client/MSN. in favor of yahoo. MSFT search can not even find its own websites!
In Msft effort to force Msn-msgr, they damaged their own abilities, crash my sys, waste my time...So i Leave, for good.
J Bo
"The Wise are Conquered by the Innocent" ... jimbo
Posted by jstacat (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
google
Trust Google, these guys sell you out at the drop of a hat, they've done it already in China and other 3rd world hell holes. What makes you think Google already hasn't sold us out??

Greedy Scum, that is all Google and MS and Cisco and Oracle and Yahoo are. Greedy low life that will allow their info to be used to catch "freedom supporting" users, I have yet to hear about how they have helped authorities capture pedophiles or any other disgusting scumbags, but they bend over and spread their cheecks for any government trying to repress their people.
Posted by oscar-pie (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.