FTC Ends DoubleClick Privacy Investigation

  |  January 23, 2001   |  Comments

The New York advertising company passes one major privacy hurdle, effectively clearing it torelease a combined Abacus-DoubleClick product later this year.

The Federal Trade Commission said Monday that it has ended its investigation into DoubleClick's privacy policies in its ad serving and data collection practices, effectively clearing the online ad giant from wrongdoing for the time being.

In a letter to DoubleClick's attorney, Christine Varney, the FTC said that "it appears ... that DoubleClick never used or disclosed consumers' [personally identifiable information] for purposes other than those disclosed in its privacy policy."

In addition, the FTC concluded that DoubleClick "has not used sensitive data for any online preference marketing product."

The FTC investigation began in February, after the company said it planned to combine online profiles with personally identifiable information from the databases of its newly acquired subsidiary, Abacus Direct, an offline marketing firm.

While DoubleClick quickly retreated from its plans to combine the databases -- in response to public outcry -- the FTC launched an investigation to ensure that the ad network was holding to its word of not combining consumer data that it had collected online with personally identifiable data it had acquired from Abacus.

"DoubleClick remains committed to ensuring the highest level of online consumer privacy, both within our company and throughout the industry," said DoubleClick chief executive Kevin Ryan of the resolution.

The letter did indicate some areas where DoubleClick has agreed to modify its privacy policy to cover all of its privacy-related practices. According to the letter, the company had agreed to change its policies to detail the use of "Web bugs," invisible items on Web pages that track users' progress within Web sites and collect information about users.

DoubleClick would also include a statement indicating that if users delete their opt-out cookies (which protects them from being profiled by DoubleClick), they will have to re-opt-out of profiling. Additionally, the company agreed to rewrite the privacy policy on its Internet Address Finder site, to indicate that the company does sell email addresses it obtains from the site. The IAF site allows Web surfers to find and submit addresses for and information on businesses and consumers.

Since the privacy debacle, DoubleClick has been visibly trying to clean up its image, naming New York City's former consumer affairs commissioner, Jules Polonetsky, into the new position of chief privacy officer. It also hired PricewaterhouseCoopers to undertake a privacy audit, and launched a widespread banner ad campaign of its own to spread awareness of its privacy policy and opt-out features.

The FTC did leave the door open for future investigation of the firm, if events warrant. The FTC's Joel Winston, acting associate director of the FTC's division of financial practices, wrote in the letter that that the closing of the case didn't necessarily indicate a finding of innocence.

Nevertheless, Monday's closing of the FTC's investigation into DoubleClick does bode well for the New York-based firm, which has been under close scrutiny by privacy advocates, legislators, and state attorneys general since it first announced its plans to merge anonymous online and personally identifiable offline information. Several of those lawsuits are still pending but could waver in the wake of the FTC's conclusions.

DoubleClick also needs the vindication of its privacy policies because it plans to roll out at least one product this year that draws heavily on the Abacus database. Although it has released few details, the coming product is designed to combine anonymous online data with anonymous data from Abacus -- and DoubleClick would no doubt prefer if it didn't raise eyebrows.

ClickZ Live San Francisco This Year's Premier Digital Marketing Event is #CZLSF
ClickZ Live San Francisco (Aug 11-14) brings together the industry's leading practitioners and marketing strategists to deliver 4 days of educational sessions and training workshops. From Data-Driven Marketing to Social, Mobile, Display, Search and Email, this year's comprehensive agenda will help you maximize your marketing efforts and ROI. Register today!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

ClickZ Today is our #1 newsletter.
Get a daily dose of digital marketing.

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

BigDoor: The Marketers Guide to Customer Loyalty

The Marketer's Guide to Customer Loyalty
Customer loyalty is imperative to success, but fostering and maintaining loyalty takes a lot of work. This guide is here to help marketers build, execute, and maintain a successful loyalty initiative.

Marin Software: The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising

The Multiplier Effect of Integrating Search & Social Advertising
Latest research reveals 68% higher revenue per conversion for marketers who integrate their search & social advertising. In addition to the research results, this whitepaper also outlines 5 strategies and 15 tactics you can use to better integrate your search and social campaigns.

WEBINARS

    Information currently unavailable

Jobs

    • Internet Marketing Campaign Manager
      Internet Marketing Campaign Manager (Straight North, LLC) - Fort MillWe are looking for a talented Internet Marketing Campaign Manager to join the...
    • Online Marketing Coordinator
      Online Marketing Coordinator (NewMarket Health) - BaltimoreWant to learn marketing from the best minds in the business? NewMarket Health, a subsidiary...
    • Call Center Manager
      Call Center Manager (Common Sense Publishing) - Delray BeachWanted: Dynamic Call Center Manager with a Proven Track Record of Improving Response...