FTC chairman won't recuse herself in Google deal

U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras won’t recuse herself from considering the antitrust implications of Google’s proposed acquisition of DoubleClick, despite a request from two privacy groups that she do so.

Majoras, in a statement Friday, said the request by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) contains “key factual errors.” The two groups filed a petition Wednesday saying Majoras’ husband works for a law firm that is advising DoubleClick on the merger before U.S. and European regulators.

The Web site for John Majoras’ law firm, Jones Day, at one point said it was representing DoubleClick “on the international and U.S. antitrust and competition law aspects” of the Google merger. But Platt Majoras said in her statement that Jones Day has never contacted the FTC about DoubleClick, and she didn’t know it was representing DoubleClick in Europe until earlier this week.

A second FTC commissioner whose wife also works for Jones Day also said he won’t recuse himself.

The EPIC and CDD petition also is incorrect when it says that John Majoras is an equity partner in Jones Day, Platt Majoras said. John Majoras switched his partnership from equity to nonequity status in January 2006, she said.

“I understand that as a fixed-participation partner, his compensation will not be increased or affected by changes in the firm’s income,” Platt Majoras said.”My husband does not represent any party in the Google-DoubleClick matter. He is in no way connected to the matter, nor are any of the parties to the matter otherwise currently his clients.”

EPIC and CDD, in a joint statement, said the FTC has “failed utterly” in its procedures to alert Platt Majoras about potential conflicts of interest. Despite Platt Majoras’ claims that she doesn’t have a conflict, John Majoras is an antitrust expert at Jones Day, and one of his key responsibilities is business development in Washington, D.C., they said.

Platt Majoras “simply sets out the conclusion that the interests in her participation in this matter outweigh the potential conflict without providing any of the relevant factors that support that conclusion other than that she is the chairman of the commission,” said the statement from EPIC executive director Marc Rotenberg and CDD executive director Jeffrey Chester.

Jones Day changed its Web site after the groups pointed out that it said the firm was representing DoubleClick on U.S. antitrust matters, wrote Rotenberg and Chester.

“The logical conclusion is that Jones Day … sought to destroy the relevant evidence,” Rotenberg and Chester wrote.

A Jones Day spokesman didn’t immediately have a comment when asked about the EPIC and CDD allegations.

Google in April announced plans to acquire ad-serving giant DoubleClick in a US$3.1 billion deal. That same month, EPIC, CDD and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) filed a petition asking the FTC to block the deal unless Google made significant changes to its privacy policy. The groups argued that the combined company would have unparalleled access to Web users’ personal information.

FTC Commissioner William Kovacic also noted, in a Friday statement, that his wife, Kathryn Fenton, is a nonequity partner at Jones Day. The EPIC and CDD petition had not sought to have Kovacic recused.

The FTC’s three other commissioners, Pamela Jones Harbour, Jon Leibowitz and J. Thomas Rosch, issued a joint statement, saying that they agreed with the decisions of Platt Majoras and Kovacic not to recuse themselves.”It is evident that these commissioners have at all times taken affirmative steps to conduct themselves in complete conformity with the ethical standards that apply to their positions,” the three said.

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