The old playground taunt of "it takes one to know one" seems especially apropos today as Microsoft and AT&T both raised antitrust questions about the proposed Google/DoubleClick merger.
The $3.1 billion all-cash deal has attracted negative attention fromseveral major companiessince being announced last week. Microsoft's general counsel, Brad Smith, said in a statement yesterday that the deal "raises serious competition and privacy concerns in that it gives the Google-DoubleClick combination unprecedented control in the delivery of online advertising, and access to a huge amount of consumer information by tracking what customers do online."
While Microsoft may in fact care deeply about protecting your personal information online, the company also cares deeply about revenues—and it has made a strong push in the online advertising over the last few years. Despite its best efforts, Microsoft still trails Google in ad sales by alarge margin, and the proposed deal will widen the gap further.
Microsoft's complaint may be self-interested, but it may also have some validity;this is surely a merger that will receive more than a cursory glance from regulators. Eric Schmidt, Google's CEO, told the New York Times last night that he's not worried. "We've studied this closely, and their claims, as stated, are not true," he said.
Smith estimates that the combined entity could control up to 85 percent of the online advertising market, which is a worringly high percentage unless you happen to sell desktop operating systems. Time Warner (one of the bidders for DoubleClick) and Yahoo (which also has a big stake in online advertising) are rumored to be in opposition to the deal as well, though neither company has yet come out publicly to say so.
If the companies do decide to launch a concerted campaign to derail the merger, expect it to follow the predictable logic of such events: "independent" reports will be commissioned, federal officials will be lobbied, commercials will air on DC television stations, and a "Normal, Ordinary Citizens Against Google Expansion" (NO CAGE) grassroots pressure group will form, though it will not disclose its sources of funding in order to "keep the debate focused on the facts." If the companies are feeling particularly gutsy, they might try to get state legislatures to pass motions denouncing the merger and demanding federal intervention. Whatever happens, expect a media circus in the run-up to the regulatory review.