DoubleClick’s Double Cross

USA Today says DoubleClick, the company that tracks your moves on the Web, has (ahem) reconsidered its promise not to connect individual browsers with names and addresses. It’s a good story, but unfortunately this isn’t exactly a surprise. I’ll be more shocked when an online company proves it can be trusted with customers’ data.

DoubleClick’s threat to consumer privacy has long been obvious. In fact, the company’s CEO, Kevin O’Connor, told Forbes magazine in 1996 (the quote is at the end of the story) that any connecting of DoubleClick’s database to names, addressess and the like “would be voluntary on the user’s part, and used in strict confidence. We are not going to trick people or match information from other sources.”

Then, last year, DoubleClick bought Abacus Direct Corp., a direct-marketing services company — for precisely the purpose O’Connor disclaimed. And as USA Today makes clear, the company and its online partners are already doing this without notifying customers.

Okay, you’re theoretically being notified — many levels down in some Web sites, hidden in fine print that is so tedious you suspect it’s designed not to be read. If that’s adequate notification, I’m Steve Forbes (the only major-party presidential candidate, by the way, who appears to recognize privacy as a campaign issue).

This latest outrage raises a question: Is anyone awake at the Federal Trade Commission? Apparently not.

DoubleClick says you can opt out — that is, put your information in a database that keeps you from being tracked. Two problems: First, you need to do it with every browser on every computer you use. Second, as we’ve seen, DoubleClick has shown it can’t be trusted to keep its word.

Click here to take yourself out of DoubleClick’s database, just in case you think it’s worth the trouble.

Or, do it the long way, as if you were trying to get to the opt-out part of DoubleClick’s Web site. (Note: This is a multi-step process — possibly designed to make you give up midway.)

  • Go to DoubleClick’s home page.
  • Click on “Privacy Policy” on the left side of the page (you may have to scroll down to see it). Read the horse manure statement and then go back to the top of the page.
  • On the left you’ll see, under “Privacy Policy,” a link called “Privacy & Opt Out.” Click on that. Here, DoubleClick tries to persuade you that it and its partners are spying on your Web movements solely for your own good.
  • Scroll down to the link that says “If you would still like to Opt-Out, please click here.” Click there, and DoubleClick returns a message that you’ve opted out.

    Don’t you feel better, now?

    Opting Out of Other Spy Sites

    The Center for Democracy & Technology has an opt-out page covering several kinds of direct marketing. Use it. Or lose even more of your privacy.

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