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Privacy Groups Troubled By DoubleClick-Abacus Deal

Several online privacy groups, including Junkbusters Corp. and the Electronic Privacy Information Center, are raising red flags about the acquisition of Abacus Direct Corp. by ad network DoubleClick Inc.

The privacy groups said they sent an open letter to the company, the Federal Trade Commission and some members of Congress.

"By synchronizing cookies with name and address from e-mail, registrations and e-commerce transactions, the merged company would have a surveillance database of Orwellian proportions," said Junkbusters President Jason Catlett.

Abacus Direct has stored data on more than 2.4 billion consumer purchases through 1,100 catalogs. DoubleClick wants to use that information along with its own data to deliver targeted ads to consumers, and is willing to pony up more than $800 million in stock for the privilege.

The privacy groups said the proposed combination amounts to a "surveillance machine of unprecedented breadth and depth, posing unacceptable privacy dangers to the public. . .The ads will be watching the consumers, reporting their individual movements through cyberspace, on demand to potentially thousands of organizations."

DoubleClick President Kevin Ryan told DoubleClick allows consumers to prevent information from being collected by opting out at this location , Ryan said.

Junkbusters and the Electronic Privacy Information Center both also recently protested Intel Corp.'s plans to include a serial number on its Pentium III microprocessor. Intel bowed to the pressure by changing the feature so it's turned off unless a user activates it manually.

Could the whole matter be resolved in an opt-in manner? Rosalind Resnick, president of e-mail marketing firm NetCreations Inc., thinks the answer may be yes.

"While we believe that an Abacus for the Web presents tremendous opportunities for Internet marketers to reach their customers more effectively, we also believe that such a database needs to be developed in an opt-in manner that respects consumer privacy and choice."