*DoubleClick Touts Privacy With 50 Million Banner Ads

Online advertising services network DoubleClick Inc., New York, launched its Internet Privacy Education Campaign yesterday, an aggressive online marketing push designed to raise consumer awareness about the company's privacy protection options while calming critics about its businesses practices. The banner ads are being buttressed with full-page advertisements in The New York Times and other papers around the country.

DoubleClick is billing its effort as the largest public service advertising campaign in Web history. The banner ads which begin appearing yesterday, link users to www.privacychoices.org, a special site detailing DoubleClick's privacy policies, as well as an opportunity to opt out from having DoubleClick cookies placed on their Web browsers or from participating network clients.

The official campaign, announced during a briefing, follows complaints by consumer advocates that the company's new profiling effort — called the Abacus Alliance — marries online and offline user information in a fashion privacy advocates say DoubleClick promised it would not participate in. Abacus Direct, a division of DoubleClick, manages the Abacus Alliance, the nation's largest proprietary database of consumer buying behavior used for target marketing purposes on the Internet and through direct mail.

As part of DoubleClick's Internet Privacy Education Campaign, Kevin O'Connor, DoubleClick's co-founder/CEO, defended the company's practices and policies while announcing it would only be conducting business with online publishers that have a privacy policy. He also said, “We will only renew contracts with existing Web publishers if they have a privacy policy.” In addition, he said the company had begun a search for a Internet privacy officer who will report directly to the DoubleClick board of directors.

Currently, DoubleClick is not offering to disclose any information to consumers that it may have on file about them. Privacy advocates present at the briefing pressed O'Connor on his company's interpretation of the word choice as well as the how the company would eventually be handling its affairs in the murky area of aggregate data management. O'Connor said for security reasons and issues related to adequate authentication measures, that allowing consumers to verify their data was not possible at this time.

Mark Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Washington, a group filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over Doubleclick's profiling practices, said: “It's very important to keep in mind that Double Click will still not give users access to information about them, but they will sell it to a business for a price.”

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