March 8, 2000 7:00 AM PST

Consumer advocates to head DoubleClick privacy efforts

Amid heightened criticism and scrutiny from privacy groups and regulators, online advertising giant DoubleClick today said it has hired two prominent New York consumer advocates to spearhead its online privacy efforts.

DoubleClick announced it has appointed Jules Polonetsky, consumer affairs commissioner to New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, as its chief privacy officer. In addition, the company appointed Bob Abrams, former New York state attorney general, as chair of its Privacy Advisory Board.

Polonetsky will work with DoubleClick clients and consumers to publicize and enforce the company's privacy policies. Meanwhile, Abrams will oversee a board of outside privacy and security experts who will advise DoubleClick in developing and revising its policies.

"I believe that appointing Bob Abrams and Jules Polonetsky, two people who have dedicated their lives to consumer advocacy, shows our commitment to ensuring online privacy," Kevin Ryan, president of DoubleClick, said in a statement.

The appointments come as privacy and consumer groups have criticized DoubleClick for its plans to combine online and offline data that it collects on consumers. The controversy stemmed from DoubleClick's $1.7 billion acquisition of Abacus Direct, a company that works with offline catalog companies. Opponents of the merger feared DoubleClick would combine online surfing habits cultivated by its ad network with personal information collected by Abacus' transaction records.

DoubleClick serves online advertisements for Web sites. It also employs technology that can track user behavior on the Web to help companies target ads to users with specific preferences.

However, advocacy groups such as the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) have alleged that its information-gathering technology may reveal user purchases online, including video titles, salaries and search terms.

Last month, DoubleClick changed its privacy policy to allow linking its database of consumer profiles with data collected about user habits. Furthermore, the policy would make the information available to members of a new advertising network dubbed Abacus Alliance.

The company has since been hit with lawsuits alleging its policies violated user privacy. In addition, DoubleClick disclosed in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was under investigation from the Federal Trade Commission for its data-collection practices.

Since then, DoubleClick has stepped back on its plans. Last week, the company said it would postpone its data-merging plans until new privacy guidelines were established between government and industry.

News.com's Evan Hansen contributed to this report.

 

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