DoubleClick Does About-Face on Privacy Issue

FRAMINGHAM (03/03/2000) - The CEO of New York-based DoubleClick Inc. has announced that the online advertising firm won't merge names with anonymous Internet users' activity, at least for the immediate future.

In a statement issued yesterday, O'Connor said, "It is clear . . . that I have made a mistake by planning to merge names with anonymous user activity across Web sites . . . until there is an agreement between government and industry on privacy standards."

In November, DoubleClick completed its acquisition of Abacus Direct Corp. - a national marketing database - with intentions of merging information it had acquired about consumers' online activities with Abacus' database of personal information.

DoubleClick's change of heart comes amid criticism about its information-collection methods by privacy groups and just two weeks after the Federal Trade Commission launched an informal probe of the company's alleged deceptive practices (see story). The FTC is looking into how DoubleClick planned to collect and maintain Internet users' information in a national database.

It is unclear whether DoubleClick's announcement will have any affect on the FTC's investigation. FTC spokeswoman Claudia Bourne Farrell said her agency had no comment on the issue.

DoubleClick's about-face also comes two weeks after the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the FTC seeking an investigation of DoubleClick's practices (see story). A California woman filed a lawsuit against the firm - also last month - alleging that it uses cookies to identify users and track their movements.

"This decision underscores the need for legislation to protect the anonymity of (people who use) the Internet," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of EPIC.

In his statement, O'Connor said DoubleClick will continue to expand its media, technology, e-mail and off-line data businesses, and will continue to sell online advertising.

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