Microsoft: Google ad buyout is a privacy killer

How's this for the pot calling the kettle black: Microsoft is charging that the Google buyout of online ad giant DoubleClick may lead to big privacy concerns for online consumers. What Microsoft isn't saying is that it was in the running to buy DoubleClick as well.

Google has inked a deal to buy DoubleClick for $3.1 billion, and Microsoft is crying foul. In the words of Brad Smith, Senior Vice President and General Counsel: "This proposed acquisition raises serious competition and privacy concerns in that it gives the Google DoubleClick combination unprecedented control in the delivery of online advertising, and access to a huge amount of consumer information by tracking what customers do online. We think this merger deserves close scrutiny from regulatory authorities to ensure a competitive online advertising market."

Smith is right to be worried about the privacy issues. Already, Google can capture enormous amounts of information about people's online activities. Now they'll know much, much more, because DoubleClick uses cookies to track people's activities across Web sites.

That means that Google will know not only what people search for, and what sites they click after they search, but even what sites they visit when they're not searching.

The irony here is that people have worried for years about all the data the Microsoft collects about them, via various ways that Windows and its applications send information back to Microsoft servers. Even more ironic: Microsoft was in the running to buy DoubleClick. For once in its life, it got outbid.

So Microsoft is being disingenuous in crying foul because Google may become an online monopoly, or because it may invade people's privacy. The reason it's unhappy is that someone else was willing to dig deeper in their pockets for once.

This isn't to say that Microsoft's concerns aren't legitimate. Regulators should take a close look at the deal, for the reasons that Microsoft cites. But Microsoft doesn't get my sympathy on this one.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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