Combatants in the privacy controversy over ad network DoubleClick’s efforts to profile consumers online opened fire on one another this week with grass-roots Internet campaigns.
The Center for Democracy and Technology put up a Web page blasting DoubleClick’s profiling scheme. The Washington advocacy group sent e-mails to its list of several thousand activists urging them to spread the word to visit the site, opt out of DoubleClick’s profiling effort and protest by sending DoubleClick and its Web publisher clients a form e-mail included on the site.
“In [the first 24 hours] we’ve gotten 3,700 messages,” said Ari Schwartz, policy analyst at the CDT.
Under DoubleClick’s controversial profiling initiative, dubbed the Abacus Alliance, about a dozen DoubleClick clients reportedly have begun taking Web-site registrations planning to marry consumers’ clicking behavior with offline catalog purchasing data from Abacus Direct Corp., which DoubleClick acquired on Nov. 23. DoubleClick, New York, has repeatedly declined to name the sites participating in the alliance.
Abacus Direct, Broomfield, CO, manages the largest co-op database of consumer catalog buying habits in the United States. It holds records from 1,100 catalogs that direct marketers use to predict purchasing behavior in 88 million U.S. homes.
DoubleClick aims to use the data to create profiles that DoubleClick’s online advertisers and Abacus’ catalogers could use to find Web users most likely to make purchases online.
In an attempt to snuff out the controversy resulting from the effort, DoubleClick sent clients e-mail claiming that press reports have been inaccurate. DoubleClick’s e-mail also apologized to clients for angry letters they may have received from consumers, and included a form letter of its own as a suggested response.
“We heard from a handful of our clients and took the proactive step of contacting all our clients,” said Jonathan Shapiro, senior vice president at DoubleClick.
DoubleClick has about 1,500 sites in its network. About 11,000 sites use its Dart ad targeting solution. DoubleClick received “a small handful of direct inquiries” from consumers during the 24 hours after CDT launched its attack, said Shapiro, although declining to name the number.
“We’ve got ongoing discussions with congressman and regulators,” he said “Our hope is that we can do a good job educating the consuming public about what we do and what we don’t do.”
DoubleClick also held a conference call with clients on Wednesday, during which company president Kevin Ryan told them he’s disappointed with the reaction over the Abacus Alliance.
“I’m not sure we have done as good a job as we can at getting our message out,” he said.
CDT’s main beef with the Abacus Alliance is that the profiles will be warehoused in a central database where they could be subpoenaed or stolen by hackers.
“DoubleClick could store the information on the user’s [hard drive] with a DoubleClick tag on it,” said Schwartz. “But they believe they need to hold onto the information to make it worthwhile.”
To quell consumer fears, DoubleClick states that all sites participating in the Abacus Alliance must provide notice of the following:
* The site is capturing personally identifiable information
* The information will be shared with a third party and combined with offline and online information.
* The information will be used to target ads in the future.
“We’ve given the users control and we want to make sure they have the information they need to make an informed choice and exercise their control,” said Shapiro.