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DoubleClick's DoubleTake

by Glen Emerson Morris
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The decision by DoubleClick to cancel plans to correlate its online consumer profiles with the offline consumer profiles of its recent acquisition, Abacus Direct, has sent shock waves through the Internet advertising community. In later years, the backtrack of DoubleClick will likely be seen as the turning point in the Internet privacy war. If DoubleClick had pulled it off, they would have had the largest proprietary database of consumer behavior on the planet. As it was, consumers who felt betrayed by DoubleClick turned out in numbers the company never imagined possible, leaving the surprised company to face a lawsuit, and possible action by the FTC. However, the public's reaction came as no surprise to some businesses.

Business Week recently made the Internet privacy issue it's cover story, and advised the business community to accept privacy legislation now, or face much stronger legislation in the near future. They're not kidding. According to a Business Week/Harris poll, the last two years has seen a major shift in the public's attitude about online privacy. Two years ago (in February 1998) only 15% of the people surveyed said explicit privacy guarantees would encourage them to buy online, now (in March 2000,) that number has risen to 37%. Of those consumers who don't buy online, 62% (up from 52% two years ago) say they are concerned that information they give online may compromise their privacy. These are numbers politicians don't feel they can overlook, even after considering campaign contributions.

From the numbers, it appears the more consumers find out about privacy standards on the Internet, the less they like them. Unfortunately for companies like DoubleClick, consumers are beginning to find out quite a lot about what information is being collected about them, how it is being collected, and what is being done with it. Watchdog groups like Junkbusters Corp, The Electronic Privacy Information Center, and The Privacy Journal, are quick to detect privacy invasions, and with the help of the Internet, they can notify millions of people of their findings literally overnight. Once notified, these people can lobby their government representatives on a scale difficult to ignore.

Not only legislation is threatening the current privacy free-for-all. At the same time advertisers were finding ways to monitor consumers' activity on the Internet, consumers were also learning to understand and circumvent the ways they were monitored. Consumer privacy has become a growth industry. Several services now offer anonymous e-mail accounts, other services offer anonymous Web surfing, and utilities that eat cookies are readily available as freeware, shareware, and payware.

In some cases, consumer privacy software is becoming very sophisticated, and very specific. A company appropriately named AdSubtract, is offering a free utility that blocks all cookies, and ads, from DoubleClick. The 2.5 Meg utility, available free from, can be upgraded to filter out companies other than DoubleClick for $20. According to the AdSubtract Website, the AdSubtract utility has blocked well over a billion ads from being viewed since its release. Highly rated by PCWorld and Ziff-Davis magazines, AdSubtract has become widely known by consumers. In addition to being offered for free downloading at several major Websites, AdSubtract is also currently being bundled with Zoom modems. Widespread adoption of AdSubtract by consumers could cripple DoubleClick, if not put it out of business altogether.

It says something about the world we live in when a highly rated software package was specifically designed to put the biggest Internet advertising company out of business. It may be a bit depressing, but at least it's understandable. Consumers are appreciative of the convenience that a database can add to a Website, just ask anyone who's checked the status of their order online with a company like However, consumers quickly become annoyed if their information is used against them. If buying from an e-com site results in an increased volume of junk mail, or telemarketing telephone calls, or e-mail spam, consumers will likely take their business elsewhere, or find another way to stop it.

In theory, ad-servers like DoubleClick have a lot to offer both consumers and e-com businesses. The idea of being able to customize ads to individual consumers is one of the true Holy Grails of the advertising industry. However, the current method of achieving this is coming at too great a cost to the consumer, and a backlash is unavoidable.

The self -regulatory approach to Internet privacy, advocated by many e-commerce businesses, is proving to be as effective as putting a 4 year old in charge of inventory security at a candy factory. The intentions may be in place, but the will power isn't. It's not surprising the public has lost confidence in this approach to privacy, and is now demanding protection with teeth. Even Business Week is advocating stiff fines for privacy violations.

Businesses need to understand that it's one thing to sell to consumers, and another thing to sell consumer's information to other businesses. True, both allow a business to make money off of a consumer, but one has the support of the consumer, the other doesn't, and that makes all the difference.

Privacy is becoming a condition of doing business with consumers. As DoubleClick discovered, just the promise of privacy won't be enough; it will have to be delivered.

Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

' keywords: Internet advertising, Internet marketing, business, advertising, Internet, marketing. For more advertising and marketing help, news, resources and information visit our Home Page.

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