Home > New Technologies > Will Admob Acquisition Clarify the Role of Privacy in Web (or Wireless) Competition?

Will Admob Acquisition Clarify the Role of Privacy in Web (or Wireless) Competition?

A couple days ago, I mused about how Google might monetize newly integrated features such as voice-activated GPS in the latest version of Android, its mobile operating system.  Almost in answer to my question, Google announced today that it will acquire AdMob for $750 million in stock. AdMob is a three-year old mobile advertising start-up that is a leader in the growing mobile advertising sector.  Already, AdMob provides advertising for mobile phones such as the iPhone and smartphones running Google’s Android.

Google believes that the acquisition will clear regulatory hurdles — but that remains to be seen.  The company faces a very different regulatory environment now then it did in March 2008 when it acquired Doubleclick.  At that time, Commissioner (and now FTC Chair) Jon Leibowitz acknowledged the concerns expressed by privacy advocates but supported the transaction on the grounds that online privacy needed to be addressed on an industry-wide basis (and not through a single merger decision).

Since then – and in large part to Leibowitz’s own initiatives as FTC Chair – a perfect storm has been brewing over how privacy should be regulated online.  The FTC will examine online privacy through its upcoming roundtables entitled “Exploring Privacy” and it’s likely that the mobile web will be part of the discussion.   For instance, the FTC’s April 2009 web commerce report notes concerns with spam and children’s online privacy on certain devices (such as those which have internet browsers and GPS technology).  And that’s just the FTC.  We’re not even delving into FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski’s interest in promoting wireless competition – a topic that has been well-covered in recent weeks.

Will regulators take this opportunity to better define what role privacy should play in web competition?  It’s an unanswered, yet important question – particularly for an industry whose growth is fueled by data and financed by advertising based on that data.  With the acceleration and developments in mobile advertising, the question is especially ripe for discussion. Let’s see who takes the bait and dares to provide an answer.


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