Privacy Hounds Up Ante on Google/DoubleClick Deal

Loud cries from privacy watchdogs over Google’s proposed DoubleClick buy may not be having the desired effect on the FTC’s review of the deal. With a decision expected this month, two privacy groups aim to stall approval of the acquisition by filing a freedom of information request over an alleged conflict of interest.

A Wednesday request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Center for Digital Democracy called for the recusal of Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras from the commission’s review of the acquisition. The groups believe Chairman Majoras should remove herself from the review process, since her husband’s law firm has advised DoubleClick on the antitrust components of the deal in the U.S. and overseas.

Yesterday, EPIC told ClickZ News it planned to send the FTC a Freedom of Information Act request for all records regarding the law firm, Jones Day, and the Google/DoubleClick review. The organization also plans to request details on any privacy-related FTC investigations that may have involved the law firm.

“I don’t think they can make a decision in this case unless the documents are provided to us,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC. “We’re going to get access to the records… to find out what in fact really happened.”

One source familiar with the FTC proceedings said the conflict of interest claims are “utterly false.” The source called the initial recusal request a “last ditch effort” made in the hopes of squelching FTC approval of the acquisition.

The FTC Chairman’s husband, John Majoras, is a partner at Jones Day. A statement on the Jones Day Web site recently disclosed the firm is advising DoubleClick on antitrust and competition law issues related to its proposed acquisition by Google.

As of yesterday, the statement is no longer present on the Jones Day Web site. Jones Day did not comment regarding its affiliation with DoubleClick or the apparent removal of the statement from its Web site.

The privacy groups contend the vanished Jones Day statement contradicts information provided by the FTC. In a statement they also say the law firm aimed to conceal its association with DoubleClick by changing the Web page.

An FTC spokesperson said Chairman Majoras was reviewing the complaint from EPIC and the CDD with the FTC’s chief ethics officer, and told ClickZ News and others, “Jones Day has not appeared before the FTC on this matter.”

DoubleClick affirmed the FTC’s claim. A company spokesperson said in a written statement sent to ClickZ, “Jones Day was not engaged to represent, and has not represented DoubleClick before the Federal Trade Commission or appeared before the Commission on DoubleClick’s behalf.” Indeed, law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett is representing DoubleClick “in all aspects of its proposed acquisition by Google, including with respect to United States antitrust matters,” the DoubleClick statement said.

Simpson Thacher & Bartlett’s Web site confirms it has represented the ad management firm and its majority shareholder Hellman & Friedman in conjunction with the Google deal, and also represented Hellman & Friedman in its acquisition of DoubleClick in 2005. Simpson Thacher & Bartlett is also handling the case in Europe.

U.S. Congressman Joe Barton has also expressed concern regarding potential privacy infringements of the acquisition. He recently sent an extensive list of privacy-related questions to Google, claiming the firm disregarded his request for an in-person meeting at its California offices.

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