The US government is increasingly
toothless when it comes to regulating monopolies, or preventing their formation.
So Google doesn’t
have much to worry about from the Federal Trade Commission’s inevitable
decision to investigate its acqiusition of DoubleClick. The only time that mergers
get blocked these days, it seems, is when there’s ex ante legislation
banning them, as in the Sirius-XM deal.
Should the US be worried about Google-DoubleClick? That’s a very different
question, and I think the answer is yes – although maybe not to the point
of banning it altogether. The key monopoly here is the one on information about
users’ web-browsing habits: what they search for, what sites they visit, what
ads they click on. That information is hugely valuable to Google, and gives
it a serious competitive edge. And it’s going to be very hard for any of Google’s
competitors to compete with it in terms of the quality of their databases of
On the other hand, it’s not clear that the DoubleClick aquisition greatly strengthens
Google’s hand, since, as Catherine Holahan reports, "DoubleClick has stressed
that the Web surfing data belongs to its advertiser and publisher clients—and
thus cannot be turned over to Google". So long as Google signs some kind
of consent agreement with the FTC saying that it won’t incorporate DoubleClick’s
web surfing data into its existing user-behavior database, it makes sense to
allow this merger to happen.