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Vicky Nolan

Privacy Continues to be Big News

11 February 2000

Consumer online privacy protection has been a hot topic for a while, and several recent events have turned the heat up a few notches.

First, a lawsuit against Internet advertising giant DoubleClick landed in the news. Harriett Judnick was alarmed by DoubleClick's relationship with Abacus Direct, a direct marketing company. DoubleClick's ability to link relatively anonymous Internet explorations to a consumer's actual name, address and other information collected by Abacus, prompted Judnick to file a lawsuit.

Her complaint seeks an injunction against DoubleClick to prevent unauthorized information gathering from Internet users. (Ira Rothken, a lawyer known to many in the Net betting industry, represents Judnick. Two of Rothken's previous clients have sued card companies that sought payment of online gambling debts.)

Next, members of a Federal Trade Commission ( group studying privacy issues, scheduled since last year, met for the first time this month. (Announcing members' names generated its fair share of publicity, when privacy experts announced displeasure with a few selections.)

The FTC also announced that it will survey numerous American websites to determine the extent which these sites collect personal information from online consumers and implement fair information practices of notice, choice, access and security. The commissioned staff will assess websites' compliance with fair information practices by analyzing the sites' privacy disclosure policies.

Plus, A joint notice of proposed rule making was released February 3 by the Treasury Department, Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and Office of Thrift Supervision, for governing the exchange of customer information by financial institutions.

Not to be left out, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed a complaint with the FTC about DoubleClick's information gathering techniques.

Federal lawmakers are also taking a closer look at the issue. Already, one congressional member is proposing a ban on issuing "cookies" to users without the user's express consent.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Robert Torricelli of New Jersey, announced the Internet Privacy Act during a press conference yesterday. Under the bill, consumers could prevent unauthorized information gathering by Web operators, and allows for civil and punitive damages.

"People would be offended and upset if they were followed as they shopped in stores, kept appointments with their doctors or engaged in activities at their churches or community centers," Torricelli explained. "This is exactly what can now happen on the Internet as Web operators engage in electronic surveillance and then use or disclose this personal information for unauthorized purposes."

"The privacy rights we expect in our homes and communities should not be sacrificed to the new information age," he added.. The IPA would require the consumers' approval before any personal information could be disclosed to others. An "opt-in" standard would also require Internet businesses to inform consumers of their automatic right to privacy, unless they authorize its disclosure.

The FTC is also drafting a proposed regulatory rule that would require, among other things, clear privacy notices and the chance to "opt out" of information sharing, The Standard reported earlier this week. (Credit card numbers, social security numbers and account numbers are typically shared with third parties.) The FTC is basing their regulation on last year's Financial Services Modernization Act.

How bad can a cookie be? Cookie technology provides a better, more relevant Internet experience for Web users. DoubleClick lists some of the benefits:

  • Personalization features for stock portfolio tracking or targeted news stories;
  • Quick navigation across multiple e-commerce sites;
  • User names and passwords are automatically used;
  • Customers are shown a variety of ads, instead of the same ones over and over;
  • Targeted ads are delivered, instead of blanket advertising, to better match user's interests.

On the other hand, Internet users can "opt out" of receiving any cookies being assigned on their computer by DoubleClick's system. The company warns, however, "'opting-out' removes our ability both to control frequency of exposure to individual users and to increase the level of relevant content." executives, who just hired DoubleClick to provide ad-targeting and reporting technology for the Internet gaming portal, were unaware of the lawsuit against the advertising company. only uses customers' names and e-mail addresses, explained a company spokesman. He saw no reason for concern, since the company doesn't seek out other information about their customers. Information about the suit would be passed on to the company president, however.

Privacy Continues to be Big News is republished from
Vicky Nolan
Vicky Nolan