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23rd Oct 2017

Focus

EU approves Google takeover of Double Click

The European Commission on Tuesday (11 March) approved the €2 billion takeover of online advertising firm Double Click by search engine giant Google without conditions.

The deal would combine Google's dominance in search-related advertising (the ads that appear at the side of a Google search results page) with the display advertising services (the colourful ads at the sides or top of webpages) of Double Click, a field in which it too is dominant.

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  • Digital rights advocates worry that the merger presents a threat to online privacy (Photo: EUobserver)

The commission said that after a four-month investigation of the proposed acquisition, it had found the transaction would be unlikely to have harmful effects on consumers or competition in Europe. Other competitors would continue to exist and exert pressure on the combined company after the two operations came together.

Specifically, the commission found that the merged entity would not be able to marginalize Google's competitors, mainly because there would continue to exist viable alternative ad serving providers to which customers such as publishers or advertisers could switch, notably Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL.

But the commission stressed that in its role as competition watchdog, "the protection of individuals and the protection of privacy with regard to the processing of personal data" were not part of its mandate.

Digital rights advocates ahead of the deal had worried that the combination of the two firms presented a threat to online privacy.

The European Consumers' Association, BEUC, warned the commission of data privacy worries in a letter sent last December.

"Google/Double Click will be a data collection colossus that combines information about consumers that Google collects through its search engine with the tracking data that Double Click collects about users as they surf the web."

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld said the commission's decision did nothing to assuage consumers' concerns regarding data protection.

"The collection and use of personal data have become a valuable commodity and big business. Information about customers and their behaviour and preferences is essential for the competitive edge of many companies. Protection of personal data and competition policy are therefore closely linked in the Google/Double Click merger. The commission should not overlook the connection."

The MEP used the occasion to call for greater guarantees for the protection of privacy and consumer rights when companies that merge carry a great deal of information on their users.

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