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Google Chairman Dismisses Privacy Issue

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said Wednesday that U.S. regulatory approval of his company's proposed acquisition of DoubleClick will not be hindered by concerns over privacy.

Analysts tend to agree.

"We're quite convinced that the proposed merger meets all of the appropriate U.S. laws and is ultimately very good for consumers and for advertisers and publishers," Schmidt said at a news conference.

Several analysts said the deal would likely win regulatory approval despite advocacy groups' complaints about the two companies' privacy policies and efforts by rivals such as Microsoft Corp. to raise antitrust concerns.

Google , the world's No. 1 Internet search engine company, announced its plan to buy New York-based DoubleClick last month in a $3.1 billion acquisition that privacy advocates have urged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate.

DoubleClick helps its customers place and track online advertising, including search ads, which Google - more than its nearest search competitors Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. - has turned into an extremely lucrative business.

Google confirmed Tuesday that the FTC is conducting an antitrust review of the deal. Typically, antitrust reviews focus on monopoly concerns. But there is precedent for them to address privacy issues, analysts say.

Schmidt said that Google, when considering the acquisition, "looked very carefully" at privacy and other issues that would come under legal review "because we knew competitors would raise those issues, as indeed they have."

Mountain View, California-based Google Inc. is "not concerned that the choice of the FTC brings in some new issue that we had not thought about," Schmidt said.

Schmidt was in South Korea to participate in the Seoul Digital Forum 2007, a three-day gathering of technology and media industry leaders organized by South Korean TV network SBS.

Schmidt predicted Google would clear all regulatory hurdles and complete the acquisition by the end of 2007. He reiterated that view Wednesday, saying, "we're hoping to close later this year."

John Taladay, an antitrust lawyer at Howrey LLP, said that privacy concerns shouldn't delay the government's approval of the transaction, though he acknowledged that the FTC could consider them.

"It should be decided on the competition issues, not the privacy issues," he said.

Blair Levin, managing director of investment bank Stifel, Nicolaus & Co., said in a research note last month it is "more likely than not" that the government will conclude that the two companies currently serve different markets, and approve the deal.

Google dominates the text-based online advertising market while DoubleClick is the leading provider of graphical display ads, Levin said.

Several consumer advocacy groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, urged the FTC to investigate the privacy implications of the acquisition.

The groups said in their April 20 complaint that the two companies, when combined, would have access to an unprecedented amount of data on consumers' Web usage and Internet search habits.

Regarding other possible acquisitions, Schmidt said Google is "always open" to the idea.

DoubleClick had been the target of a fierce bidding war between Google and Microsoft. The Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft earlier this month agreed to buy U.S.-based online advertising firm aQuantive Inc. and has reportedly been in discussions with Yahoo for a possible merger or takeover.

Levin said Tuesday that Microsoft's purchase of aQuantive, along with several other recent deals involving online advertising firms, bolsters Google's argument that there is plenty of competition in the industry.

Schmidt carefully steered clear of any comment on Microsoft when asked about the company's activities.

"We are not very focused on our competitors and so I won't speculate on Microsoft's current or future M&A activities," he said. "We've found it better to stay focused on our mission, our advertisers, our partners and our global presence as we're doing today."

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