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FTC chairman under spotlight in DoubleClick review

Chief ethics officer called in to monitor Google deal

US Federal Trade Commission chairman Deborah Platt Majoras is consulting with the agency's ethics officer to see if she should remove herself from a review of Google's planned acquisition of online ad network DoubleClick.

On Wednesday, two technology lobbying organisations called on Majoras to recuse herself, citing her husband's involvement in the matter. John Majoras is a partner with Jones Day, the law firm that is advising DoubleClick on antitrust issues relating to the $3.1bn buyout. Jones Day representatives, including John Majoras, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Chairman Majoras "has previously recused herself in similar matters for similar reasons where there was a lesser conflict of interest," representatives of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) wrote in a complaint submitted to the US regulator. "It is clear that she must recuse herself now."

The chairman is now reviewing the matter with the FTC's chief ethics officer, Christian White, but an FTC spokeswoman on Wednesday downplayed the possible conflict of interest. John Majoras' law firm has not appeared before the FTC in this matter, according to FTC spokeswoman Claudia Farrell. "We learned only yesterday that Jones Day is representing DoubleClick before the European Commission, not the Federal Trade Commission," she said.

Even so, the Jones Day connection may have influenced FTC staffers or the chairman herself, said Jeff Chester, executive director with the CDD. "There's no question that there's a stealth set of influences here that could have shaped the staff opinion," he said. "We do not know what impact it might have on the chairman."

Jones Day is advising DoubleClick on "international and US antitrust and competition law aspects of its planned $3.1bn acquisition by Google," the law firm says in a note on its website.

The deal has come under scrutiny from regulators in Europe and the US who are examining whether it will give Google too much control over the Internet advertising market and too much data on the online behaviour of its users.


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