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FTC head won't recuse herself from Google-DoubleClick deal review

Privacy groups say Deborah Platt Majoras' husband is advising DoubleClick

By Linda Rosencrance
December 14, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Deborah Platt Majoras, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), won't remove herself from the agency's pending review of Google Inc.'s proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick Inc.

In a statement today, Majoras said that after reviewing concerns about the case and consulting with the agency's ethics attorney, she has "determined not to recuse myself from this matter because the relevant laws and rules, as detailed below, neither require nor support recusal."

Yesterday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), both in Washington, have asked the FTC to block the deal or impose conditions on it that would safeguard privacy because they believe neither Google nor DoubleClick would be legally required to protect the privacy and security of the information they collect. They also filed a complaint with the FTC asking Majoras to remove herself from any review of the deal, noting, in part, that her husband John is a partner at Jones Day, the Cleveland-based law firm advising DoubleClick on the deal's antitrust issues.

But Majoras said that while Jones Day represents DoubleClick in the review of the deal before the European Commission (EC), it does not represent the company before the FTC and has never appeared before the FTC -- or even been mentioned in dozens of meetings and submissions to the agency. She said the law firm of Simpson, Thacher & Bartlett LLP represents DoubleClick before the FTC.

"I understand that no one at the FTC was aware that Jones Day was involved in the EC review of this transaction until the afternoon of Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2007, at which time staff learned and contacted me," she said in the statement. "Following my customary practice when I learn that Jones Day is or may be involved in a matter, I immediately contacted the FTC's Ethics Official, and asked him to undertake a conflict-of-interest analysis."

In addition, Majoras said her husband has no financial interest in the acquisition because he is no longer an equity partner in the law firm. He doesn't represent any party in the Google-DoubleClick matter and is in no way connected to it, and he does not represent anyone connected to the deal. Because he has no financial interest in the deal, there is no financial conflict of interest on her part.

According to Majoras, the FTC's Ethics Official determined that there is no conflict of interest and determined that any concern about her role in the Google-DoubleClick matter is outweighed by the agency's interest in her participation. "Critical to that analysis was the fact that the decision-making authority of an FTC Commissioner cannot be transferred to any other person," she said. "Because my participation in this matter is consistent with federal ethics laws and regulations, I intend to fulfill the duties entrusted to me when I was appointed and confirmed."

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