Privacy Advocates Target DoubleClick Network Members

Privacy advocates are turning up the heat on ad industry leader, DoubleClick, urging concerned Internet users to barrage members of the company’s network, and DoubleClick itself, with email.

The campaign, unveiled this week by The Center For Democracy and Technology (CDT), is aimed at getting people to tell member Web sites that they don’t want their personal information pooled with other data that DoubleClick may have about them.

Complaints about DoubleClick and its privacy practices flared up after the company acquired Abacus Direct, which possesses prodigious databases about offline consumer activity. Last week, a California woman filed suit against the company accusing it of unlawful invasion of privacy.

The main concern raised by CDT is the correlation of online data — stored in cookies — with the offline information that Abacus Direct possesses. What DoubleClick needs, according to privacy advocates, is that “missing link” — name, address, etc. — gathered online, that it can use to match the online cookies with the offline consumer data. Now, CDT says, some of the members of the DoubleClick network have agreed to provide that missing link, which they collect on site registrations. That’s why the privacy organization has decided to go after DoubleClick member sites.

The email, which consumers can send from the CDT site, goes out to more than 50 publishers, including AltaVista, Blue Mountain Arts, Ask Jeeves (ASKJ), TheStreet.com, and WebMD (HLTH).

The form email that CDT has formulated tells these sites, “I understand that at least 10 Doubleclick members — perhaps you — have decided to disclose to DoubleClick personally identifying information that individuals provide you during registration to DoubleClick. . . . If I registered at your site, I did not give you permission to sell my identity — and I certainly haven’t consented to have my experience of the Internet turned into a data collection free-for-all.”

Although the company isn’t publicly commenting about the flap, DoubleClick has posted a statement about its practices and says it won’t use personally identifiable information about users unless they specifically opt-in.

“Abacus Online will maintain a database consisting of personally-identifiable information about those Internet users who have received notice that their personal information will be used for online marketing purposes and associated with information about them available from other sources, and who have been offered the choice not to receive these tailored messages,” says the notice on DoubleClick’s site.

“The notice and opportunity to choose will appear on those Web sites that contribute user information to the Abacus Alliance, usually when the user is given the opportunity to provide personally identifiable information (e.g., on a user registration page, or on an order form).”

Both the CDT Web site and the DoubleClick privacy policy page give consumers instructions on how to opt-out of having information stored in “cookies” used for marketing purposes.

Whatever DoubleClick’s practices, CDT and other privacy advocates have raised suspicion about the company’s openness and honesty, accusations that DoubleClick will likely have to refute to regain consumers’ trust.

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