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Germans Suspicious of 'GoogleClick'

German officials have become the latest to raise privacy concerns over the pending merger between online advertising companies Google and DoubleClick.

In an open letter to European Union regulators today, Thilo Weichert, commissioner of the national center for data security in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein (Landeszentrum für Datenschutz Schleswig-Holstein), questioned whether the proposed Google-DoubleClick merger would threaten European citizens' privacy.

Weichert wrote that Google controls 86 percent of the search market in Germany and Spain, 82 percent in France and 75 percent in Great Britain. DoubleClick, he added, is "market leader" in online advertising.

Because both companies intend to target advertisements based on user behavior, Weichert said he thinks regulators should question the merger's possible risk to European citizens' right to privacy.

Google, meanwhile, took another stance.

"We believe that this acquisition will increase competition and benefit both consumers and advertisers, and that it will ultimately be approved by government regulators," the company said in a statement to InternetNews.com.

It's an argument we've heard before, most recently when Google and Microsoft testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

During that hearing, Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith leveled a privacy argument against the proposed acquisition as well. He sought to raise the privacy issue over giving a single company control over what he called "the largest database of user information the world has ever known." Specifically, that assumes Google will establish a database tracking not just searches, but movement across sites serving DoubleClick ads.

"With this merger, Google seeks to record almost everything you see and do on the Internet and use that information to target ads," Smith said. "This merger will create a whole new meaning to the term 'being Googled.'"

Also in the anti-"GoogleClick" camp that day, Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, also testified before the committee on deleterious effects he expects the merger would have on consumer privacy.

At the time, Google officials largely focused instead on addressing possible antitrust concerns also raised during the hearing.

But in early September, Google's Global Privacy Counsel Peter Fleischer took the stage at a European regional meeting on the "ethical dimensions of the information society," organized by the French Commission of the UNESCO, to call for international privacy standards.

"The majority of the world's countries offer virtually no privacy standards to their citizens and businesses," Fleischer wrote in a separate blog post in which he called for international privacy standards that are "clear and strong, mindful of commercial realities, and in line with oftentimes divergent political needs."

Fleischer added in the post that such standards are necessary due to accelerating globalization, technological innovation and concern over personal privacy.

That followed Google's June decision to anonymize its search server logs after 18 months, a move in response to European Union concerns over privacy.