MEDIA WATCH: DoubleClick’s words of comfort aren’t comforting

Last week, Media Watch examined the increased attention given to the security of Internet sites. In a related topic this week, there has been increased debate over the privacy of consumer data. In particular, DoubleClick, the world’s leading Internet advertising company, has been receiving bad press for weeks due to its plan to link consumers’ online buying habits with their respective names and addresses, resulting in this information being sold to advertisers. Consumer groups were riled that the new policy was a complete reversal of the company’s previous privacy stance.

Last week, Media Watch examined the increased attention given to the security of Internet sites. In a related topic this week, there has been increased debate over the privacy of consumer data. In particular, DoubleClick, the world’s leading Internet advertising company, has been receiving bad press for weeks due to its plan to link consumers’ online buying habits with their respective names and addresses, resulting in this information being sold to advertisers. Consumer groups were riled that the new policy was a complete reversal of the company’s previous privacy stance.

Last week, Media Watch examined the increased attention given to

the security of Internet sites. In a related topic this week, there has

been increased debate over the privacy of consumer data. In particular,

DoubleClick, the world’s leading Internet advertising company, has been

receiving bad press for weeks due to its plan to link consumers’ online

buying habits with their respective names and addresses, resulting in

this information being sold to advertisers. Consumer groups were riled

that the new policy was a complete reversal of the company’s previous

privacy stance.



On February 14, DoubleClick announced the launch of a new five-point PR

plan to address consumer concerns. As part of its ’Internet Privacy

Education Campaign,’ the company would hire a privacy officer, create a

privacy advisory board, appoint PricewaterhouseCoopers to perform

periodic privacy audits and create a Web site to educate consumers and

give them the option to ’opt out’ of having their personal data used for

online marketing.



Company president Kevin Ryan presented his firm as consumer-friendly:

’DoubleClick has led the online advertising industry in providing

Internet users with notice and the choice not to receive targeted ads.

Today, we are taking even more steps to educate consumers about their

privacy rights, give them the choice to opt out and make the Internet a

more secure environment for everyone’ (The New York Times, February

15).



However, following the announcement, the media focused instead on

reports that state and federal inquiries would be probing the company’s

data-collection practices. Coverage noted that regulatory investigations

of the Internet and privacy were unchartered territory and that this

case could help lead to a precedent in legislation addressing this

market. Business Week (February 14) noted, ’On-line privacy legislation

is expected to be a major bipartisan issue in Congress this year, with

at least five legislators preparing to introduce bills that require

companies to better inform consumers about their practices.’



Consumer groups’ unfavorable reaction to DoubleClick’s plan earned more

coverage than reports stating that targeted advertising allows companies

to send only advertisements about goods and services of interest to each

consumer. The criticism was especially harsh in some newspapers, with

DoubleClick labeled a hypocrite by The San Jose Mercury News (February

17) and its plan termed ’an empty promise’ by The San Francisco

Chronicle (February 15). USA Today (February 15) reported that the

program places the onus on opting out with the consumer: ’This really

bypasses the main point, which is assent of the user is not being

obtained.’



Adding to the company’s woes was the financial impact bad press was

having.



Several reports addressed the plummeting value of DoubleClick’s stock

since the controversy began. CNN (February 17) reported, ’Reassuring

comments, and DoubleClick’s insisting it’s done nothing wrong, are not

helping the stock at all.’



Judging from media reaction, DoubleClick’s PR initiative is not being

well received by either consumer watchdogs or investors. To vindicate

itself, the company may wish to rethink its plan.





- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be

found at www.carma.com.



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