Tad Clarke's editorial (“Don't Cry Wolf Too Many Times,” June 21) chastised me for crying wolf too often. Unlike the fabled boy's false alarms, my wolves were real: Intel's Processor Serial Number, Microsoft's Global User ID and now the DoubleClick/Abacus Direct merger. All three represented major threats to privacy online. The fact that the first two wolves retreated somewhat following public attention doesn't retrospectively turn them into figments of my imagination.
I was also criticized for failing to discuss my concerns with the companies before expressing my opposition. On this basis you might also criticize the independent industry analysts who also voiced privacy concerns on the first day. The strategic intent of this deal is so plain that no impartial observer would consider it necessary to ask confirmation that the two companies' databases would be merged in the long term. Two days after the announcement I asked DoubleClick representatives if they would like to meet; they expressed willingness in principle, but they have not yet proposed a date.
Our open letter of June 21 at www.junkbusters.com/doubleclick.html detailed the concerns of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and Junkbusters and asked the companies to address these if possible. The letter has since been signed by several privacy groups, but DoubleClick has not responded. As to Tony White's statement that no group had contacted him in the first two days, I can only lament that I, like many privacy advocates and most busy people, go to bed each night having put off some things until tomorrow that I wish had been done today.
Your case for not blocking the merger seems to rest on your concluding sentence: “Both said privacy was a big part of their discussions and any marketing they do will target only those consumers who have chosen to receive promotions.'' Does DoubleClick target only those who chose to receive promotions? Using a search engine where they place ads hardly constitutes choice, particularly as most consumers are not even aware of DoubleClick's existence or methods. Abacus Direct does not solicit consumers, but it provides information to companies who send catalogs to consumers, some of whom have not chosen to receive them. Privacy may have been a big part of their internal discussions, but it wasn't a big part of their presentation to the public. If they had produced a detailed privacy impact statement to go with the merger announcement, privacy advocates might have had something to examine before criticizing.
DM News clearly takes privacy seriously. The depth of detail of its coverage is frequently far superior to the nonspecialist press. I hope to read in its columns a substantive analysis of the privacy questions raised by this merger.
Before you accuse me of crying wolf, ask if what I'm pointing at looks like a wolf.
Green Brook, NJ