DoubleClick Takes Initiative on Privacy

Leading advertising firm DoubleClick, recently under
increasing pressure from privacy advocates, on Monday tried to turn things
around in the privacy controversy, unveiling a major initiative that
involves a 50 million banner ad campaign and a Web site to educate
consumers on privacy.


“The future of the Internet relies on consumers feeling comfortable,” says
Kevin Ryan, president of DoubleClick (DCLK), speaking at a news conference.


Still, privacy advocates were not satisfied by the initiative, saying it
didn’t go far enough to address the issues. DoubleClick has been hit with
four lawsuits in the past month, and has been the target of a complaint to
the Federal Trade Commission and an e-mail
campaign organized by privacy advocates.


As part of what DoubleClick is calling its Internet Privacy Education
Campaign, the company is running 50 million banner advertisements, which it
estimates will reach between 30 and 50 million individuals over the next
couple of months. The banners will link users to PrivacyChoices, a
DoubleClick-sponsored Web site that contains information about the
company’s privacy policy and gives consumers an opportunity to opt out of
DoubleClick’s database.


“This is probably the largest campaign on Internet privacy that’s ever been
done,” says Ryan. “When you go in and opt out, what it does is render you,
from our point of view, as completely anonymous.”


DoubleClick says between 50,000 and 100,000 people have opted out of
receiving targeted ads so far, and it expects more will opt out because of
the new ad campaign.


The initiative also calls for DoubleClick to quit doing business with Web
sites in the United States that fail to post and implement what it calls a
“clear and effective privacy policy.” But DoubleClick didn’t specifically
indicate what it would consider acceptable, and it didn’t say what it would
do with its international advertising networks.


DoubleClick will also establish a consumer privacy advisory board, which
will consist of consumer advocates, security experts and other privacy
experts, to advise it on its policies. In addition, it’s creating a new
executive position, chief privacy officer, which will be DoubleClick’s
point person on the privacy issue.


The company has hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to
perform periodic privacy audits, in an effort to assure consumers that
DoubleClick is conforming with its own public statements and policies
regarding privacy.


While DoubleClick has always held that it has been a leader where privacy
is concerned, the company has been on the defensive recently as privacy
advocates have ramped up the complaints against them.


The pressure began to mount after DoubleClick agreed to acquire Abacus Direct in the middle of last
year, and concerns grew about how the advertising firm would match up
online data with offline information that Abacus has compiled. The matching
up of information has just begun to take place under the Abacus Alliance.
DoubleClick estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people have given
their personally identifiable information, the missing link between the
online and offline data.


Privacy advocates are concerned that people aren’t aware of what their
personal information is being used for, and consumers don’t realize what
they’re getting into when they register on a site that shares its
information with DoubleClick. Many advocates believe only an opt-in policy,
in which consumers would specifically request to have their data gathered
for ad targeting, would be effective and fair.


“To address the public’s privacy concern DoubleClick needs to fundamentally
alter their information practices to ensure that individuals are in control
of their personal information,” said Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst with
the Center for Democracy and Technology.


“If DoubleClick wants to make a serious statement about their commitment to
privacy they should start by putting a halt to the Abacus Online Alliance
until it is reviewed by the Consumer Privacy Advisory Board they intend to
establish.”


Senator Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey, last week introduced
legislation — the Internet Privacy Act — that would create an opt-in
standard, and the topic is a hot one on Capitol Hill.


DoubleClick, however, believes that an opt-out policy, the offline
standard, should be acceptable online as well.


“Opt-out has really been the standard there, and we think that that’s the
appropriate standard,” says Ryan. “The vast majority of people want the
information linked.”

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