DoubleClick Receives OK on Privacy Settlement

Over the objections of consumer and privacy advocates, DoubleClick on Tuesday received court approval to settle state and federal lawsuits concerning its privacy and data-collection practices.

Through the settlement, the New York-based firm agrees to adhere to a series of policies that it proposed in March to end the two-year-old suits, which charged DoubleClick with surreptitiously and deceptively violating Web surfers’ privacy. The lawsuits came following DoubleClick’s since-halted plan to join consumers’ personally identifiable information with online cookie data.

The settlement’s proposed policies include limitations on cookies’ lifespan, submission by DoubleClick to independent privacy audits, and the continuation of a consumer education campaign.

DoubleClick also agrees to safeguard and routinely purge collected consumer data, to continue providing “clear notice” of its privacy policies, and to obtain explicit permission before DoubleClick treats consumer data in any way other than specified in the privacy policy under which the data was collected. The firm also agrees to obtain consumers’ approval for any future plan to combine personally identifiable information with previously-collected clickstream data.

Through the settlement, DoubleClick also assumes responsibility for the cases’ legal fees and costs, which could run as high as $1.8 million. (The firm already accounted for the charges in operating expenses from previous quarters.)

As a result of the agreement’s approval by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, DoubleClick admits no wrongdoing and all currently pending state and federal-level class action suits pending against the firm are to be dropped.

Despite support for the agreement by plaintiffs’ counsel, several independent privacy groups and consumer advocates, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Junkbusters, Inc., had expressed disapproval with the settlement.

The groups had protested that the settlement agreement fails to expand on the terms of the Network Advertising Initiative, an industry self-regulatory body formed by DoubleClick and others. The NAI has received the endorsement of the Federal Trade Commission but has run afoul of consumer advocates, who contend that the group’s “opt-out” policies represent little in the way of serious privacy protection for Internet users.

EPIC and Junkbusters, which earlier this month filed a formal objection to the settlement, also said that DoubleClick should be responsible for paying damages to consumers, rather than just covering attorneys’ fees.

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