Business your connection to The Boston Globe

Google bid for ad firm said to face FTC probe

DoubleClick deal raises antitrust, privacy concerns

The Federal Trade Commission has opened a preliminary antitrust investigation into Google's planned $3.1 billion purchase of the online advertising company DoubleClick, an industry executive briefed on the agency's plans said yesterday.

The inquiry began at the end of last week, after it was decided the Federal Trade Commission instead of the Justice Department would conduct the review, said the executive, who asked not to be identified because he had not been authorized to speak on the matter. The two agencies split the duties of antitrust enforcement.

A spokesman said the FTC does not comment on pending inquiries.

The deal, involving powerful forces in their respective niches of the online ad business, prompted privacy advocates and competitors to raise concerns after it was announced last month. Those concerns and the deal's size made a preliminary investigation all but certain, according to antitrust experts.

Within a few weeks, perhaps within days, the FTC will decide whether to escalate its investigation into the Google deal, antitrust experts say. That step, known as a "second request" for information, would suggest that the proposed acquisition raises more serious antitrust issues.

Google said it was confident that the deal would withstand scrutiny.

Privacy groups said it was significant that the FTC, the agency that monitors online privacy issues, would be conducting the review. "We think it's very important that the FTC is taking a look at the Google-DoubleClick deal," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy rights group.

In the days after the planned merger was announced, advocacy groups filed a request for the FTC to investigate the privacy implications. The groups noted that Google collects the search histories of its users, while DoubleClick tracks what websites people visit.