Complaint: FTC, law firm hiding DoubleClick conflict

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The Web site of a law firm employing the husband of U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras contradicts an FTC explanation that Majoras has no conflict of interest in reviewing DoubleClick’s $3.1 billion acquisition by Google, two privacy groups said Thursday.

On Wednesday, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) asked Majoras to recuse herself from the merger review, saying her husband, John Majoras, is a partner with Jones Day, the law firm that is advising DoubleClick on antitrust issues relating to the acquisition.

DoubleClick and the FTC have denied that Jones Day has represented the company before the FTC.

But on Thursday, EPIC and CDD filed a second complaint with the FTC, showing a cached Web page claiming that Jones Day is advising DoubleClick “on the international and U.S. antitrust and competition law aspects of its planned $3.1 billion acquisition by Google Inc.” The Jones Day Web page was later changed, the groups said.

EPIC and CDD said Thursday they were filing a Freedom of Information Act request seeking all records on the relationship between Jones Day and DoubleClick.

One conclusion to draw is that “Jones Day has sought to conceal the nature, scope and duration of the relationship with its client DoubleClick by altering web pages,” said a letter signed by executive directors of both organizations. FTC spokespeople who denied the relationship were “either misinformed or willfully misled the public,” the letter says.

An FTC spokeswoman declined to comment on the new complaint. Representatives of Jones Day and DoubleClick weren’t immediately available for comment.

The FTC and DoubleClick downplayed the connection Wednesday, saying Jones Day has not advised DoubleClick on matters before the FTC. Instead, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett has been DoubleClick’s outside counsel since July of 2005 and has advised it in matters before the FTC, DoubleClick said in a statement.

“Jones Day was not engaged to represent, and has not represented DoubleClick before the Federal Trade Commission or appeared before the commission on DoubleClick’s behalf,” the company said.

In April, EPIC, CDD and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (US PIRG) asked the FTC to block Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick unless the combined company made changes to its privacy practices. The combined company would hold a vast amount of private information on Web users, the groups said.

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