Groups React to DoubleClick Change of Plans

A day after DoubleClick said it had made a mistake by planning to merge names with anonymous Web activity because of a lack of government and industry privacy standards, industry groups say they’re moving urgently to establish such standards.

DoubleClick’s postponement of its plans until a consensus is reached, “is a good thing, overall, for the industry,” says Rich LeFurgy, chairman of the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) and partner at Walden VC.

“I think DoubleClick is active in a number of different industry groups, and they will be part of the solution. The industry is working aggressively and diligently to come up with some privacy guidelines that put the individual in control.”

Vivienne Bechtold, chair of Future of Advertising Stakeholders (FAST) and Procter & Gamble‘s director of i-Knowledge, agreed. “Folks are encouraged about DoubleClick’s announcement. Absolutely, there has to be consensus, because the industry has to be fully aligned on this.”

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) wouldn’t comment one way or other on the DoubleClick decision, saying that it was an internal company matter. “Clearly,” says Stephen Altobelli, director of public affairs for the DMA, “there were concerns about how notice and opt-out would be provided to consumers.”

The Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General’s offices of New York and Michigan have initiated inquiries into DoubleClick’s privacy practices, after receiving complaints from consumers and privacy advocates. The pressure on DoubleClick intensified after it announced plans to merge consumer data collected online with the offline data it acquired when it bought Abacus Direct. On Thursday, it halted those plans, citing a need to establish industry-wide standards.

“Creating industry policies involving something so incredibly important to our global economy and individuals is not something to be taken lightly,” says Kevin O’Connor, chief executive officer of DoubleClick.

“We all agree on the goals: keep the Internet free while protecting consumer privacy. It is now time for industry, consumers and government to develop a clear set of guidelines that help create a healthy, free Internet while protecting the privacy of all consumers.”

Advertising industry groups say the privacy issue — and even this concern about merging online and offline data — goes well beyond DoubleClick, although it has drawn the most fire as the industry leader.

The IAB, the DMA, and FAST, along with the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA), and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) are holding ongoing meetings in an effort to establish a policy, an implementation plan, and a way to assess whether companies are complying. Still, there’s no deadline or real timetable for coming to a consensus.

“The fact that this is a cross-industry coalition speaks volumes about the urgency we all feel,” said LeFurgy. “I don’t think the industry has a tremendously long time to figure this out.”

The goal for industry groups, to a certain extent, is to establish these standards before government agencies and legislators step in to make the rules.

“We think the correct route is self-regulation,” said LeFurgy. “We completely support a self-regulation that will be seen as the correct approach by industry, consumer groups, and government.”

But the industry may be running out of time, as the Federal Trade Commission makes inquiries about DoubleClick, and as lawmakers seek to make their reputations as consumer advocates by introducing privacy-related legislation.

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