DoubleClick Reworks Privacy Policy

  |  June 4, 2001   |  Comments

It's more readable, but the Alley ad network remains firmly entrenched on in the opt-out camp.

Online advertising giant DoubleClick, which last year faced controversy over its privacy policies and practices, has a new version of the document that started it all.

On Friday, the New York-based ad network rolled out a new privacy policy, and said it's inviting criticism and comments from the public at large.

The new policy has been reworded in an effort to make it easier to understand, said a spokesperson from the company.

"It's the best way to meet both the needs of novice Internet users who aren't looking for a 25-page document, and the very tech savvy," said the spokesperson.

Instead of spelling out DoubleClick's privacy policy in a single document, the contents are broken down into sections like "Ad Cookie Opt Out," "Email," and "Clear GIFs." More detailed information appears below those sections, and the copy is largely devoid of the complex legalese that marked earlier versions.

Much of the policy remains unchanged, said the spokesperson. Some details of DoubleClick's arrangement with Abacus Direct -- a database alliance of about 88 million offline consumers, which DoubleClick purchased last year -- were made more accurate, the DoubleClick spokesperson said, but at press time couldn't confirm what exactly had been altered.

The effort is part of DoubleClick's continuing effort to build up its reputation and its record on privacy, following last year's debacle over a proposed integration of the Abacus database with DoubleClick's online anonymous database.

In response to public outcry, the company not only dropped the idea but created the position of chief privacy officer, to which it appointed Junes Polonetsky, former head of New York City's consumer affairs division. According to the company, Polonetsky has veto power over contracts with clients who refuse to adhere to DoubleClick's privacy policies.

In recent months, DoubleClick also has tapped a new ad agency and heard proposals from PR agencies.

"DoubleClick is committed to executing its business in the most open manner possible," Polonetsky said in a statement about the revised privacy policies. "This extends from opening our privacy policy up to public comment, to clearly outlining for consumers how 'cookies' work and how they can opt-out of them, and to holding our adherence to our privacy policy up to regular independent review, as we have committed to do here."

While the layman will certainly find the new privacy policy more readable, critics of the company's profiling practices remain unimpressed.

As in previous versions, DoubleClick said its privacy policy is based on "fair information practices," as outlined by the Network Advertising Initiative -- an industry consortium that advocates opt-out as the standard for online profiling.

But Jason Catlett, president of spam-blocking company Junkbusters, responded to the new privacy policy in an open letter and charged that the company "uses the phrase 'fair information practices,' but DoubleClick's own practices are nonconsensual, opaque and grossly unfair."

In an open letter on his company's Web site, Catlett wrote that he repeatedly has asked DoubleClick to give the public access to its Abacus Direct database, but said he's been constantly rebuffed.

"How could keeping billions of records in secret electronic dossiers constitute executing business in 'the most open manner possible?'" said Catlett, who also called Polonetsky's claim of being committed to openness "more suited to a chief propaganda officer than a chief privacy officer."

More fair, Catlett said, would be a privacy policy based on consumers' explicit consent to DoubleClick's data collection -- that is, opt-in, rather than opt-out.

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