Privacy Groups Criticize Google

The U.S. government still needs to block or impose conditions on Google Inc.'s acquisition of online advertising server DoubleClick Inc., despite Google's call for global privacy standards, three privacy groups said Monday.

Google last Friday called for a global privacy standard, and the company referred to a framework designed by Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

But the APEC standard is "weak," Melissa Ngo, director of the Identification and Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), said during a press conference Monday. The APEC standard "puts the burden on consumers to prove they are being harmed," she said.

Google's call for a global privacy standard does not allay concerns that privacy groups have with Google's proposed US$3.1 billion purchase of DoubleClick, said Amina Fazlullah, staff attorney with consumer group U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG).

Consolidation in the online advertising market could lead to more demand for consumers' private information, Fazlullah said. In addition, Web sites will have few choices for which vendors to deliver their ads, she said. "The resulting Google company will have a lot of control over what we can actually see, read and hear about online," Fazlullah said. "That is definitely problematic for consumers, but also for greater democratic concerns."

A Google spokesman said the APEC privacy standard is just one model the company has pointed to. Google also supports the U.S. Federal Trade Commission's town hall meeting on the evolving online advertising market, to be held in early November, spokesman Adam Kovacevich said.

EPIC's complaints about Google's privacy policies are "unsupported by the facts and the law," Google added in a statement.

"Google aggressively protects user privacy, and user trust is central to Google's values and essential to the success of our products," Google said. "We have engaged with numerous privacy and consumer advocates to discuss and explain our acquisition of DoubleClick, but unfortunately EPIC has refused every offer we have made to meet with them. We can only conclude that EPIC would prefer not to be informed about the erroneous claims it is making."

But the privacy groups said Google continues to collect a "massive" amount of data about users.

"There is no greater threat to competition in the online market and also a threat to privacy than the Google/DoubleClick merger," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

Combining Google's search dominance with DoubleClick's display advertising dominance "will give Google an overwhelming share of control of the online advertising market," he added.

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