FTC head criticized over potential Google-DoubleClick conflict

Groups say Deborah Platt Majoras' husband is advising DoubleClick on $3.1B deal

Two privacy groups want the chairwoman of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Deborah Platt Majoras, to recuse herself from a review of Google Inc.'s $3.1 billion acquisition of online advertising company DoubleClick Inc. (dowload PDF).

On Wednesday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), both in Washington, filed a complaint with the FTC saying that Majoras' husband, John, is a partner in Jones Day, the Cleveland-based law firm advising DoubleClick on the deal's antitrust issues. In addition, the privacy groups said the FTC chairwoman had also been a partner in the Jones Day law firm.

The two organizations 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, according to the complaint.

FTC spokeswoman Nancy Judy said Majoras is consulting with the FTC's ethics attorney to determine whether she should, in fact, recuse herself.

"We found out on Wednesday that Jones Day is representing DoubleClick before the European Commission, but it has never appeared before the FTC on this matter," Judy said.

Jones Day officials could not be reached for comment.

Even so, the law firm's connection may have influenced FTC staffers or the chairwoman herself, said Jeff Chester, executive director with the CDD. "There's no question that there's a stealth set of influences here that could have shaped the staff opinion," he said. "We do not know what impact it might have on the chairman."

According to the complaint, "Chairman Majoras has previously recused herself in antitrust matters pending before the FTC where there was a similar conflict of interest with her law firm Jones Day. ... It is clear that she must recuse herself here."

The deal has come under scrutiny from regulators in the U.S. and Europe that are examining whether it will give Google too much control over the Internet advertising market and too much data on the online behavior of its users.

Yesterday, members of a congressional committee said they were unhappy that Google's executives couldn't find a mutually agreeable time to discuss the deal. So Rep. Joe Barton, (R-Texas), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Google CEO Eric Schmidt asking him to answer a number of questions about the privacy and consumer-protection implications of the deal.

The IDG News Service contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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