*Michigan Latest to Open Fire on DoubleClick

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The Michigan attorney general's office was the latest to open fire on DoubleClick Inc., announcing yesterday that it has initiated legal proceedings against the New York-based firm. Michigan Attorney General Jennifer Granholm said DoubleClick has violated the state's Consumer Protection Act by tracking computer users without their knowledge or consent.


"This amounts to little more than a secret cyber wiretap," Granholm said in a statement. DoubleClick has until Feb. 27 to respond or it faces a lawsuit.


Michigan joins the Federal Trade Commission and the New York attorney general's office in investigating DoubleClick's business practices for possible consumer privacy violations. DoubleClick's stock plunged on the news and was trading down $14 at press time.


Under the profiling effort, about a dozen Web sites have reportedly started taking registrations planning to marry clicking behavior with data from recently acquired Abacus Direct's co-op database of records from 1,100 catalogs. Direct marketers use the Abacus database to predict the buying behavior of consumers in 88 million U.S. homes.


The idea behind the initiative is to help offline catalogers and Internet marketers find Web surfers who are most likely to make purchases.


Critics contend the profiling effort marries online and offline user information in a fashion that DoubleClick promised it would not employ.


"DoubleClick's privacy policy is a moving target, and consumers should be extremely cautious about relying on the company's vague promises," Granholm said.


In an effort to answer charges, DoubleClick announced an "Internet Privacy Education Campaign" earlier this week that will employ up to 50 million banner ads linking to a privacy information site at PrivacyChoices.org offering consumers the ability to opt out of the initiative.


DoubleClick chairman/CEO Kevin O'Connor said the campaign was designed to raise consumer awareness about the company's privacy protection options. He also announced a search for an Internet privacy officer who will report directly to DoubleClick's board of directors, and he promised the company will no longer conduct business with online publishers that don't have privacy policies posted on their sites.


Privacy advocates saw the move as a stopgap measure designed to assuage critics and put concerns to rest within the government about the company's profiling policies. Also, DoubleClick declined to disclose or verify any information for consumers that it may have on file about them.


For "security reasons and issues related to adequate authentication measures," allowing consumers to verify their data is "not possible at this time," O'Connor said.


"It's very important to keep in mind that DoubleClick will still not give users access to information about them, but they will sell it to a business for a price," said Mark Rotenberg, executive director at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Washington. His group filed a formal complaint with the FTC on Feb. 11 over Doubleclick's profiling practices.
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