​Beware of Google's combined DoubleClick and Android adtech power, Oracle document warns

17 Aug 2020 7:44 am by James Panichi, Laurel Henning

investigation

Software giant Oracle told Australian competition officials to focus on Google’s expanded use of personal information through the 2008 acquisition of DoubleClick to sharpen the search giant’s ability to deliver targeted digital advertising, MLex can reveal.

In a lobbying document used during a 2018 meeting with the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission, or ACCC, Oracle made the beginnings of a case for the regulator to both closely scrutinize the adtech market and launch enforcement action against Google.

In February 2020, the ACCC announced a probe into Facebook and Google’s dominance of the adtech market; in July, the regulator launched legal action against Google, alleging it had misled consumers when extending its use of personal data in 2016.

The document, obtained by MLex under freedom-of-information laws after two years, doesn’t reveal a causal link between Oracle’s lobbying efforts and the two lawsuits launched against Google by the ACCC over recent months.

But the presentation does point to the regulator’s interest in gathering information on the platform and highlights the bitterness of Oracle’s global feud with the search giant over Google’s copying of Oracle’s Java software when developing the Android operating system.

The newly released document is significant because it places Oracle’s campaign against Google squarely in the context of mobile telephony. Oracle describes Google’s mobile operations as a three-legged stool, made up of Google Search, Doubleclick and Android.

Central to the 67-page presentation is Google’s DoubleClick acquisition, a technology company that specializes in the targeting of advertising and the collection of user data.

Oracle points to Google’s vertical integration throughout the “ad-tech stack” — the argument that, at every turn where a company interacts with digital advertising, it must also interact with Google. This suggestion was repeated in the ACCC’s March 2020 issues paper at the outset of its ad-tech inquiry.

Oracle summarizes its concerns in a slide at the end of its presentation by saying that “the greater Google’s data scale and diversity advantage, the more it can target ads, the more valuable its ads are and the more it can generate ad revenue, selling ads and associated services.”

“Augmenting its data scale and diversity advantage insulates Google from competition in advertising and other services, increases its market shares and profitability,” Oracle argued.

‘Superprofiles’

Yet the concerns outlined by Oracle relate more to privacy than competition. On Page 50 of the slide presentation, Oracle argues that a simple change to Google’s data-practices in 2016 had dramatic implications for privacy and consumer rights.

In a notification to users, Google said that “[d]epending on your account settings, your activity on other sites and apps may be associated with your personal information in order to improve Google’s services and the ads delivered by Google”.

Yet, prior to the privacy update, Google had said it would “not combine DoubleClick cookie information with personally identifiable information unless we have your opt-in consent” — a statement that was deleted in June 2016 with the update.

Google’s revised privacy statement, which featured in Oracle’s presentation, has become central to the ACCC’s recently announced consumer-law legal action against Google in the Federal Court of Australia.

Oracle argues that Google’s DoubleClick acquisition of personally identifiable information about the online activities of account holders on their use of third-party sites and apps, along with data gathered by Google’s Android operating systems, has created “superprofiles.”

These accurate and detailed profiles contain a wealth of data that helps to target advertising.

Android’s data collection

The partially redacted document adds context to other confidential correspondence and slides presented to both the ACCC and Australia’s privacy commissioner in the course of the 2018 meeting, in which Oracle highlighted Google’s use of Android to gather data.

According to MLex’s reporting last September, Oracle told Australian regulators that Android violated consumer law because it continued to gather information on a user’s whereabouts, even when the phone’s location-data function had been switched off.

The new document obtained by MLex doubles down on those concerns, arguing that Google “constantly collects vast swaths of data on all of its users’ location and their activities, 24/7.”

Google was able to monitor Android users’ every step “through tracking via enabled location services and also via more surreptitious means, through WiFi mapping, Bluetooth beacons and cell-tower communications,” Oracle told the Australian officials.

In October 2019, the ACCC launched its first lawsuit against Google over the company’s collection and use of location data through the Android operating system. The ACCC’s court filings mirror the concerns put forward by Oracle.

The document goes on to identify television, described by Oracle as “the third screen,” as “Google’s last growth ad market,” reflecting an increased use of “app-based” TV sets using Android to channel programming through Google Play, an app store.

The Oracle submission points out that users of Android televisions, including the version made by Sony, cannot bypass Google’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. This, in turn, means that Google will be able to gain access to the TV viewers’ data, Oracle claims.

Last week’s release of the final Oracle lobbying document marks the end of a two-year campaign by MLex’s reporters to obtain the material used to accompany the presentation to ACCC officials.

Oracle initially attempted to have release of the documents blocked, prompting MLex to file an appeal with an Australian administrative court. Oracle eventually stepped away from the court challenge, but the final document was only released last week.

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