Monday, October 15, 2007

Competition regulators ignore Google privacy concerns

Herbert KohlEU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes has rejected calls to consider the privacy implications of the Google bid for DoubleClick. She told The Guardian: "We are looking at the influence on competition and that's it." The US Federal Trade Commission is similarly expected to restrict its investigation to anti-trust grounds.

This is both unfortunate and another sign that competition authorities are taking some time to adjust to the new world of winner-takes-all infogopolies. As we have seen with the Microsoft competition enquiries, more traditional competition regulation has not proven up to the task of remedying the monopolistic behaviour of companies taking advantage of network effects to crush their rivals. Regulators need to move faster, be more willing to impose structural remedies, and to act in the spirit of competition law — preventing abuse of dominant positions, whether the impact is on competitors or consumers. As Senator Herb Kohl told a recent US Senate Judiciary Committee hearing:

"Some commentators believe that antitrust policymakers should not be concerned with these fundamental issues of privacy, and merely be content to limit their review to traditional questions of effects on advertising rates. We disagree. The antitrust laws were written more than a century ago out of a concern with the effects of undue concentrations of economic power for our society as a whole, and not just merely their effects on consumers' pocketbooks. No one concerned with antitrust policy should stand idly by if industry consolidation jeopardizes the vital privacy interests of our citizens so essential to our democracy."

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