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Home > Privacy and Business > Online Privacy > DoubleClick / Abacus

DoubleClick / Abacus

The DoubleClick / Abacus story is widely touted as an example of how threatening to privacy online marketers and database companies are. DoubleClick, an online ad serving company, caused a stir when it announced plans to combine clickstream information with information in the Abacus database it had acquired. This would have delivered highly customized and targetted advertising to consumers. In March 2000, DoubleClick announced that it would not go forward with this custom-marketing plan.

A thoroughly overlooked and, for that reason, remarkable aspect of the DoubleClick story is that DoubleClick withdrew its plan because of public pressure. No clickstream information was ever combined with offline information and, as the Federal Trade Commission found, no consumer's privacy was ever invaded. Having pushed the envelope a bit too far without explaining the benefits of its plan to the public, DoubleClick exercised good corporate judgment and relented.

This can be usefully compared to the federal government's "Know Your Customer" regulations. These proposed regulations would have required financial institutions to profile their customers and submit "suspicious" transactions to a government database. In light of overwhelming public objection, the formal regulations were withdrawn. Yet, today, regulations under the Bank Secrecy Act require banks to monitor and report on their customers.

DoubleClick / Abacus is the poster child for threats to privacy in the online environment. In fact, it is one story of privacy concerns being assuaged in the private sector.


Letter from FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection to DoubleClick (January 22, 2001)

Comments? (Subject: DoubleClick)

[updated 01/23/01]

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