Google spars with European lawmakers over privacy

BRUSSELS Mon Jan 21, 2008 1:54pm EST

A Google search page is seen through the spectacles of a computer user in Leicester, central England July 20, 2007. Google attacked European parliamentarians and privacy advocates on Monday for trying to have competition authorities consider the handling of personal information in its $3.1 billion takeover of rival DoubleClick. REUTERS/Darren Staples

A Google search page is seen through the spectacles of a computer user in Leicester, central England July 20, 2007. Google attacked European parliamentarians and privacy advocates on Monday for trying to have competition authorities consider the handling of personal information in its $3.1 billion takeover of rival DoubleClick.

Credit: Reuters/Darren Staples

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Google attacked European parliamentarians and privacy advocates on Monday for trying to have competition authorities consider the handling of personal information in its $3.1 billion takeover of rival DoubleClick.

The argument was the centerpiece of a European Parliament hearing to consider the burgeoning role of the Internet in impinging on the privacy of citizens.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) signed off last month on Google's (GOOG.O) $3.1 billion deal, which combines its dominance in pay-per-click Internet advertising with DoubleClick's market-leading position in display ads.

After listening to a visiting FTC commissioner, U.S. and European privacy advocates and European parliamentarians question the impact of the deal on European citizens' on-line privacy, Google's global privacy counsel shot back.

"People (are) trying to take a privacy case and shoehorn it into a competition law review ... I can understand that people continue to peddle this theory in Europe after having lost in the United States," Peter Fleischer said. His attack did little to calm the waters.

"The reason you want to have the data is because it gives you a competitive advantage. It is business. I don't think they can be completely disconnected. And we should discuss that side of things too," said Sophie in 't Veld, the Dutch parliamentarian who sought the hearing.

She called information a competitive factor and declared: "Having that much information is market power."

Federal Trade Commissioner Pamela Harbour said her four colleagues at the FTC had taken a traditional approach and excluded questions of privacy in their decision. She dissented.

"I believe a traditional approach does not capture the interests of all the parties. There is no proxy for the consumer whose privacy is at stake," she said.

The European Commission has said it will not take privacy into consideration. In the past six years, it has not turned down any all-U.S. deal approved by U.S. authorities.

Fleischer, asked about the deal rationale, said Google wanted to get into banner advertising. He said his firm did not build dossiers on individuals through searches, instead using the words of each search to decide what ads to display with it.

Contractual limits would prevent Google from using DoubleClick information from individuals, he said.

Stavros Lambrinidis of Greece, who chaired the meeting, asked whether Google turned information over to government authorities.

Fleisher said that if authorities go "through a valid legal process we will respond to it."

(Editing by Dale Hudson)

Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.