Much of the discussion and debate in the U.S. over Google’s proposed acquisition of DoubleClick was about the impact of the deal on consumer privacy, even though that wasn’t technically part of the anti-trust analysis before the FTC. Accordingly, the FTC approved the acquisition with one commissioner dissenting largely on privacy grounds. Now, Pamela Jones Harbour, the FTC commissioner who dissented, will testify before the European Parliament committee on civil liberties about her concerns and rationale. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, will also testify in Europe this week.
Consequently, some of the discussion and drama of the U.S. hearings will be recreated in Europe. The Europeans, however, appear poised to be more aggressive than their American counterparts in holding Google’s feet to the fire. While I’m less familiar with the European rules, it would appear that the commissioners there have more legal flexibility than the FTC in terms of what may be considered in making a decision on the legality of the acquisition.
Europeans have been very vocal and protective of consumer privacy, much more so than U.S. officials. It’s possible that they will ask for some set of concessions from Google regarding consumer privacy protection as a condition of approving the deal. No such restrictions were attached by the FTC.
It’s also possible, though less likely, that they will decline to approve the acquisition outright, which would kill it notwithstanding the U.S. FTC’s favorable decision. European regulators must rule on the deal by early April.