EU to probe Google-DoubleClick plan


BRUSSELS -- European Union regulators have opened an in-depth investigation into Google's $3.1 billion plan to buy online advertising giant DoubleClick.

The European Commission -- the EU's antitrust authority -- on Tuesday set an April 2 deadline for its ruling on the planned takeover, which would mark a full year since Google first announced its intention to purchase the company that sells Internet ads with pictures and videos.

The commission's move is a blow to Google, which had hoped to see its takeover bid cleared under an expedited process. But opposition from rivals, publishers and consumer groups proved too serious for the regulator to ignore.

"Initial market investigation indicated that the proposed merger would raise competition concerns in the markets for intermediation and ad serving in online advertising," an EC statement said.

"We are obviously disappointed," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said. "We seek to avoid further delays that might put us at a disadvantage in competing fully against Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and others whose acquisitions in the highly competitive online advertising market have already been approved."

DoubleClick is the world's largest broker of online banner advertising. Its products allow customers to place and track online advertising, including search ads. Google controls 70%-80% of the paid-search advertising market. The addition of DoubleClick would give it the lead in graphical ad placement as well, rivals say.

In Washington, the Federal Trade Commission has yet to rule on the merger. But the EC has been fiercely lobbied by rivals Microsoft and Yahoo, who have raised concerns that the deal will damage competition and give Google a monopoly in the $28.8 billion global online advertising market.

There have also been worries expressed by the European Publishers Council, the World Federation of Advertisers and European consumer group BEUC, who say the merger takeover will damage privacy rights and limit Internet content.