DOUBLECLICK: Drops Plan to Sell User Names
Web advertising firm DoubleClick Thursday "pulled back from a plan" which would have identified Internet users and sold the information to marketers, Reuters/Houston Chronicle reports. "We made a mistake about moving ahead with plans to merge names of anonymous user activity across Web sites in the absence of any government and industry privacy standards," DoubleClick CEO Kevin O'Connor said. Privacy advocates "applauded the move" and said it may help set a precedent for future internet regulations. Last year, DoubleClick "set off alarms" among privacy advocates with its plan to purchase Abacus Direct, a Colorado direct marketing firm that collects data on individuals. By combining "cookies" with Abacus's data, DoubleClick would have been able to reveal names of surfers using specific sites for marketing purposes (3/2).
Minding One's Business?
In a column in this week's U.S. News & World Report, Fred Vogelstein writes that O'Connor, "with the full force of America's online privacy obsession bearing down on him," was "suddenly contrite" about his company's plans to sell surfer names, admitting, "I made a mistake." Arguing that O'Connor's enemies "got the best of him" last week, Vogelstein maintains that the "38-year-old billionaire was forced to beat a retreat. Rightly or wrongly, Americans decided DoubleClick's business practices were not to be trusted." Vogelstein concludes that consumers have "clearly said that the idea of a computer watching them surf the Internet gives them the creeps" (Vogelstein, 3/13). The Atlanta Journal- Constitution editors write today that "Americans who value their right to privacy won a small victory last week" when DoubleClick "backed down" from it plans to sell user names. The editors argue that the case may force Congress to "take an even harder look at the threat companies like [DoubleClick] pose to an even more fundamental issue -- our right to live free of the intrusive gaze of a private-sector 'Big Brother.'" The editorial concludes, "while we're waiting for government to protect our privacy," surfers can take "some steps to safeguard" themselves and use http://opt- out.cdt.org to remove "snooping 'cookies' of several firms, including DoubleClick, from your computer" (3/6).