The mere spectre of a merger between Microsoft and Yahoo is sounding alarms among some privacy advocates, who say that any union of the two companies should be permitted only after a thorough investigation of how it would affect online privacy.
The privacy-related concerns raised after Microsoft announced its US$44.6bn (£22.4bn) offer for Yahoo are similar to the ones that have been voiced in connection with Google 's planned purchase of online ad-serving vendor DoubleClick. In both cases, the concerns centre on the possibility of vast amounts of consumer tracking information being consolidated in the hands of a single vendor.
The proposed combination of Microsoft and Yahoo "has far-reaching implications for consumer privacy", according to Jeff Chester, executive director at the not-for-profit Centre for Digital Democracy (CDD). Chester added that in the wake of the Google-DoubleClick deal, which was announced last April, it was inevitable that Microsoft would respond. "We predicted this day would come, but it has happened a lot sooner than we thought it would," he said.
Microsoft executives have said that buying Yahoo would help make the software vendor more competitive with Google in the market for online services, such as search and advertising. During a conference call, Kevin Johnson, president at Microsoft's platforms and services division, suggested that the online services business is currently "ruled” by one company, Google. "The industry will be better served by having competition", Johnson said.
But Chester claimed that by pitting Microsoft and Google against each other in a battle for online supremacy, the proposed acquisition would only exacerbate the practice of tracking the online activities and behaviour of internet users in order to serve them with highly targeted ads.
"This is about two competing digital behemoths having the ability to collect and use an unimaginable amount of personal information about each and every one of us, and giving it to an array of advertisers large and small," Chester said. "In the end, there will be just three places all the information will be: Google, Microsoft and the NSA”, a reference to the National Security Agency.