Watchdogs Seek FTC Scrutiny Of ‘Big Data’ Consolidation

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Late last year, when Oracle announced it had reached a deal to purchase Datalogix, a targeting shop known for connecting offline purchases to online ads, some privacy advocates quickly raised the alarm.

“Through the data it gathers on what we buy, and with its relationship with Facebook and other powerful marketers, Datalogix consists of a online treasure trove of data on Americans,” Center for Digital Democracy Executive Director Jeff Chester said at the time. Chester called on the Federal Trade Commission to examine the deal's impact on people's privacy — noting that the merger was coming within one year of Oracle's purchase of the ad tech company BlueKai, which aims to personalize ads based on users' Web activity.

Despite the advocates' concerns, the Department of Justice approved the $1.2 billion-plus deal in mid-January.

Now, the Center for Digital Democracy and other organizations — Public Citizen, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group and Consumer Watchdog — say the FTC should investigate the growth in “data-oriented mergers.”

“The Oracle/Datalogix transaction involved the merging of far-reaching and powerful datasets and applications across key offline and online markets, including financial, retail, auto sales, grocery, and other major sectors,” the organizations write today to FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “It illustrates the crosscutting dimensions of the contemporary 'Big Data' digital marketplace, where competition and consumer-protection issues are intertwined.”

The groups argue that the FTC should be “more proactively involved” when it comes to reviewing mergers between companies that hold data about consumers. The organizations also are asking the agency to investigate how consolidation affects consumers, and to hold address questions about “data-driven marketing” at a public workshop.

They state: “Given the profound changes underway on how Americans learn about, shop, and pay for everyday products … the commission’s investigation should help the public better understand the implications for their daily lives of these major marketplace developments.”

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