DoubleClick and Internet Privacy

By David Baron
2002 | Case No. P32 | Length 11 pgs.
In February 2000, USA Today disclosed DoubleClick’s plan to merge its anonymous online data with Abacus Direct’s database. DoubleClick, the industry leader in Internet advertising services, quickly suspended its plan to merge the databases. The company tracked Web activity on its DoubleClick Network of 1,500 Web sites and placed banner advertisements on 11,000 sites. The information it collected was identified only by an ID number assigned to a cookie deposited on the user’s computer by the banner advertisements. DoubleClick’s DART software technology processed the anonymous information to generate user profiles used to tailor advertisements for Web sites. Abacus Direct was the leader in collecting information from catalog purchases and using that data to target advertising and catalog configurations to consumers. Abacus had five-year buying profiles on 88 million households, including name, address, telephone number, credit card numbers, income, and purchases. As the privacy firestorm erupted over the merger of the Abacus data on offline purchasing with information gleaned from the browsing of Internet users, DoubleClick saw its $1.7 billion strategic investment in Abacus Direct dissolve. In the aftermath, DoubleClick faced the problems of developing a strategy for regaining public confidence and for the collection and use of information going forward. The case discusses Internet privacy, self-regulation, privacy activists, personal assurance of Internet privacy, and actions by the U.S. government and the European Union.
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