an attempt to stem the flood of criticism that has been leveled at his
company since its acquisition of Abacus Direct, CEO Kevin O'Connor announced
that DoubleClick (NASDAQ:DCLK) had "made a mistake by planning to merge
names with anonymous user activity in the absence of government and
industry privacy standards."
statement came after partners AltaVista and Kozmo.com announced that they
were shocked, yes shocked, at the possible violations of user privacy
resulting from DoubleClick's plans. DoubleClick's stock price has dipped
from $135 at the start of the year to $79 after the announcement by the
two web sites.
Direct is a direct marketing company that collects information from catalog
companies. DoubleClick planned to merge information from that source with
the anonymous surfing behavior that the company collects by dropping cookies
on the machines of users when ads are served to them. This would provide
much more information that the company could use to target ads to individuals.
plan to merge the two data streams, once announced in its privacy statement,
drew the ire of consumer groups, caused one California woman to file a
class action lawsuit, and launched a Federal Trade Commission investigation
of the uses of consumer information collected over the Internet. Also
it is possible that the popular search engine HOTBOT was hacked to protest
the DoubleClick action. For at least two days a search for DoubleClick
brought up as the first entry the DoubleClick home page with a tag line
identifying it as "The (in)famous DoubleClick Company." DoubleClick did
not answer TEC's queries about this strangely deprecating text.
has not abandoned its plans, as Mr. O'Connor's statement made clear. In
fact, as revealed by CNET, the company hired a political strategist, Josh
Isay, as Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs to manage its
lobbying efforts. With advertisers demanding more return on their dollars,
DoubleClick will not give up on this issue without a fight.
the outcry may well cause the FTC investigators to develop a creative
and workable proposal that allows tracking while giving consumers meaningful
and workable ways to opt out. Such a proposal has not yet surfaced. (Here's
one offered by TEC, gratis: any ad that might have a connection
to personal identification could have an identifying mark, such as a red
spyglass, in one corner. As rich media technology becomes more prevalent
in ads, this mark could actually be made clickable, to take users to an
will be interesting to see how DoubleClick's main rival, Engage (NASDAQ:
ENGA), reacts to these investigations. Although Engage has been at pains
to point out that their targeting methods do not involve the use of personal
information, the company must have concerns that a higher level of targeting
may be necessary in the future to meet advertisers' requirements.
certainly won't suggest that AltaVista's high profile announcement had
anything to do with the fact that AltaVista is now owned by CMGI (NASDAQ:
CMGI), the power behind Engage. If AltaVista was seeing signs of an impact
on its own business as a result of this imbroglio, that would be news.
Even though the story reached the mainstream press, most consumers have
little idea which agency serves the ads that get on the web pages they
Individuals who are worried about these issues have many roads to follow,
including refusing cookies and visiting the DoubleClick site to opt out
of the (temporarily suspended) data collection program. This was not made
as easy as it might have been, and while it is now unnecessary a visit
to those pages will register a vote of sorts.
way to register a vote on either side is to communicate with your Congressional
firms involved in advertising, our advice remains to be responsible corporate
by making sure that you know exactly what information is being collected
from your website visitors and exactly how it is being used.