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Saturday, April 14, 2007

DoubleClick’s Past

Google News Archive search is a nice way to recap coverage of a person or company throughout the years. Here are bits and pieces of past DoubleClick coverage. While lots of coverage deals with DoubleClick in regards to privacy criticism, and I’m sure lots of it is based on real issues, we also need to keep in mind that news sometimes hype privacy issues (think of the stories that erupted when Gmail came along with targeted ads, for instance). On the other hand, there’s the fact that privacy policies are simply not always adhered to by the companies that put them forth, and users have little ways to measure this (and are left to rely on faith).

So will Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick increase privacy issues? Already, Google through Gmail, search and such pretty much knows everything about you when you’re logged in, and other issues (like Google’s cookie life-time, or Gmail ads) are almost negligible in comparison. It doesn’t get anymore private than email, spreadsheets, docs and search, so if you don’t trust Google (your mileage may vary), don’t log-in, and don’t store your data on their servers! The only additional risks in this acquisition might be increased potential for Google to track users and user movement (through the network of sites utilizing DoubleClick, among other DoubleClick data), as well as Google’s existing data becoming available to an even larger circle of tools, companies & people – with sometimes, new chances of correlating information.


HighBeam Research in April 1996 writes:

DoubleClick: ’We’re no peeping Toms.’ (...)

Go surf the Internet – and, a few cynics allege, have your privacy invaded by DoubleClick Inc.

DoubleClick is a media-buying division and service recently launched by New York-based Poppe Tyson featuring a software program that can monitor an Internet browser’s every move through Web sites in the DoubleClick media network.

Diane Filippi, a spokesperson for DoubleClick, defends the company by noting that names and addresses are kept confidential

CNet in November 1996 says:

Ads find strength in numbers

Ad networks have become popular so quickly because Internet ad networks promise some of the most highly targeted advertising available. Networks such as DoubleClick, today’s leading network, for example actually collect Internet user and organization profiles. Advertisers then design their ads for a specific audience by selecting from a wide range of criteria about the kind of customer they are trying to reach. When a user hits a Web site that is a member of the ad network, the sites knows to display the advertising banner that best matches the user’s or organization’s profile.

Wired in March 1997 writes:

DoubleClick Tries to Force Hand into Cookie Jar

DoubleClick Software is fighting to save its business life.
That’s because a subcommittee of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has written a standards draft for tracking cookies that would threaten the ability of DoubleClick and other Web ad agencies to silently track user movements between sites run by clients on their advertising networks. Without this information, DoubleClick said it can’t count unique users, and therefore cannot send its custom-picked ads to users.

CNet in August 1997 reports:

DoubleClick networks in Asia

Internet advertising network DoubleClick announced today that it will launch DoubleClick Japan, a network focused on the Pacific Rim.

CNet in March 1998 writes:

DoubleClick hot, set to expand

DoubleClick (...) has captured Wall Street’s attention, and now faces the challenge of proving the value of Internet advertising to mainstream America.

The company went public during a hot period for tech IPOs and its shares have risen along with those of other Internet stocks. But it still faces stiff competition in an unproven market, as well as a privacy controversy about its product. in July 1998 writes:

DoubleClick’s Double Talk

On June 30, the Internet advertising-placement company put out a statement saying it had the “third largest audience reach on the Internet behind America Online (...) and Yahoo! (...), according to Media Metrix,” which measures Web site use. (...)

Never mind that Media Metrix disavowed the release. After all, throwing seemingly good news on fiery Net stocks makes them erupt. Wall Street pushed shares of DoubleClick as high as 77 1/8 from 49 11/16 in just four days.

Now, with the stock back at 44 5/8, DoubleClick is backpedaling. “We compared apples to oranges just to prove a point,” says Amy Shapiro, a company spokeswoman. “It was misleading. We didn’t explain it clearly enough ... and we realize that we should have explained more clearly what we were trying to say.”

CNet in October 1998 writes:

DoubleClick launches ad service

DoubleClick, the company known for creating an advertising network that plants cookies in people’s browsers, today is introducing a program that allows advertisers to even further target their ads to users. (...)

DoubleClick gets information from Web surfers by planting cookies – digital tags that remain on a user’s computer every time a surfer visits a site in the DoubleClick network. (...)

While privacy advocates have at times complained about the practice, DoubleClick says it maintains privacy because it never actually identifies people by name – just by their digital codes.

Once the cookie is planted, the surfer is then identified every time she visits another site in the network. Each time she does something on the site, DoubleClick can add the information to its database about that user.

With the service Boomerang, it can use the information to send specific targeted ads to the customer. If, for instance, the Web user shops for ties on one site, and later she goes to another unrelated site in the network, the site selling ties can send her an ad

Wired in June 1999 reports:

Groups Keep Heat on DoubleClick

Consumer privacy groups urged stockholders of a marketing firm to block a proposed merger of the company with a Net advertising firm.

“This open letter urges you to disapprove the proposed merger of Abacus Direct and DoubleClick, and to demand disclosure from the companies on certain key questions affecting it,” the letter to DoubleClick shareholders said.

Also in June 1999, CNet writes:

DoubleClick not worried about privacy charges

DoubleClick says it hasn’t received any complaints about the pending merger, and that no consumer groups have contacted the company directly.

“We don’t think it’s an issue,” said Kevin Ryan, DoubleClick’s president.

“I’ve been very active on the online privacy issues with the FTC since 1997,” he added. “We spent a lot of time on this in discussing the merger – if consumers are not happy, neither one of us has a business.”

The Washington Post in February 2000:

DoubleClick Is Probed On Data Collection

Michigan’s attorney general said she will file suit against DoubleClick under that state’s consumer laws. DoubleClick’s consumer monitoring “is a secret cyber-wiretap,” said Attorney General Jennifer M. Granholm. “The average consumer has no idea that they are being spied upon,” she said, and that lack of warning constitutes “a deceitful practice under our consumer-protection act.”

The probes come as privacy advocates have stepped up their criticism about DoubleClick’s business practices. Last week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a privacy advocacy group, filed a formal complaint with the FTC, accusing DoubleClick of unfair and deceptive trade practices and demanding an immediate investigation.

EPIC’s complaint alleged that DoubleClick was unlawfully tracking the online activities of Internet users, combining their surfing records with detailed personal profiles contained in a national marketing database of a firm DoubleClick recently acquired. That practice, EPIC charged, ran counter to an earlier promise by DoubleClick that the information it collected on Internet users would remain anonymous.

The Register in June 2000 writes:

Another day, another DoubleClick privacy PR disaster

DoubleClick has been caught mucking around with personal privacy – again. The world’s biggest online ad sales house has been caught gleaning email addresses and other personal information from Web site customers – without the knowledge of Web sites.

DoubleClick says the transmission of personal data from the unwitting Web sites was “inadvertent”. And no, it’s not using the info to target consumers.

“We don’t save it, or keep it at all,” Jules Polonetsky, DoubleClick’s privacy officer (...) told AP. “It won’t ever be involved in how we deliver ads.”

CNet in October 2000 reports:

DoubleClick buys direct emailer for $191 million

Online advertising company DoubleClick today said it will acquire NetCreations, an opt-in email marketing service, for $191 million in stock.

The deal adds to DoubleClick’s existing email marketing resources. The company now will be able to help Web marketers reach consumers by tapping NetCreations’ database of 15 million email addresses, on top of its own 7 million addresses. DoubleClick handles online advertisements for companies and sells anonymous information about people’s surfing habits to help advertisers better target their messages.

Forbes in December 2000 writes:

DoubleClick Loses A Customer, Causes Jitters

Although DoubleClick is the undisputed leader in the Internet advertising space, speculation that it could lose its ad-serving customer base has sent the stock plummeting. (...)

Shares of DoubleClick went from bad to worse, falling from an opening trade on Monday of $35.62 to a close of $28.50 on Tuesday, a drop of about 20%.

In January 2001, USA Today reports:

FTC clears DoubleClick

The Federal Trade Commission on Monday ended its investigation into the data collection practices of DoubleClick, the nation’s largest Internet advertising company. The FTC began its investigation in February 2000, questioning whether DoubleClick improperly amassed personal information about Internet users. In a letter to DoubleClick’s attorney, Christine A. Varney, trade commission official Joel Winston wrote: “DoubleClick never used or disclosed” consumers’ personal identifying information “for purposes other than those disclosed in its privacy policy.” (...)

The complaints against DoubleClick were sparked by the company’s $1.7 billion purchase last fall of direct marketing company Abacus and DoubleClick’s plans to cross-reference its records of consumers’ online habits with a Abacus database that includes names and other identifying data. The company eventually scrapped those plans.

In July 2001, CNet writes:

DoubleClick: Web ad market isn’t improving

The online advertising market won’t get better this year, DoubleClick executives said Tuesday after reporting second-quarter results. (...)

Although DoubleClick is taking market share from rivals, the overall industry remains in a slump. Growth in online ads has plummeted since early 2000.

In January 2002, CNet writes:

DoubleClick turns away from ad profiles

Online advertising company DoubleClick has phased out its Internet ad profiling service as part of its shift from media services, proving consumer tracking doesn’t always pay.

The New York-based company jettisoned its “intelligent” targeting service effective Dec. 31, a company representative confirmed Tuesday. Launched in 2000, the product allowed marketers to target ads based on a database of some 100 million profiles. The technology tracked people online anonymously and then served ads based on personal tastes. (...)

In the last 16 months, DoubleClick has worked to deflect its dependence on the sickly advertising market. It has built up its research, data and technology divisions while slowly dismantling its media division. in February 2002 writes:

DoubleClick Finds an Uncomfortable New Privacy

(...) What happened? In part, it was the dot-com flameout. What looked at the time like steadily increasing advertising revenue was actually just cheap venture capital-provided money looking for places to be spent. When the VCs disappeared, so did the ad spending.

CNet in May 2001 2002 reports:

DoubleClick able to settle privacy suits

DoubleClick on Tuesday received federal court approval to settle state and federal lawsuits that charged the Net advertising company with violating the privacy of Internet surfers.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted final approval of the class-action settlement agreement, which requires DoubleClick to provide consumers with a privacy policy that will clearly describe in “easy-to-read sentences” its online ad-serving service, use of cookies, as well as other services and technologies.

The settlement also requires the company to purge certain data files of personally identifiably information, including names, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. Among other provisions, the settlement requires DoubleClick to obtain permission, or so-called opt-in agreements, from Internet surfers before it can tie personally identifiable information with Web surfing history. (...)

Moreover, the company will retain an independent accounting firm that will conduct an annual review regarding DoubleClick’s compliance of the settlement.

Wired in August 2002 writes:

DoubleClick to Open Cookie Jar

For years, ad-serving cookies have crept about the Web like silent, virtual stalkers – tracking surfers as they hop from site to site in the name of targeted marketing.

Now, Net users may finally get a glimpse of some of the data such tracking applications collect.

As part of a settlement with regulators in 10 U.S. states, the Internet ad-serving firm DoubleClick said it will begin allowing Web users to view some of the records it compiles through the use of cookies.

The feature, described by the New York Attorney General’s office as a “cookie viewer,” will show the categories in which DoubleClick (...) has placed individuals, based on information about their surfing habits. DoubleClick uses the category system to sell advertising targeted to particular interest groups.

It’s unclear when the cookie viewer will actually be available, however.

BusinessWeek in February 2004 writes:

A Quiet Comeback for DoubleClick

Remember DoubleClick (...)? Investors haven’t heard much lately about this once high-flying online advertising play. Formerly ranked among the Internet’s blue chips, the stock fell from grace, along with hopes that online ads would ever become a profitable business. DoubleClick traded as low as $5 in the depths of the bear market in 2002.

Now it’s early 2004, and the online ad business is enjoying a handy comeback.


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