DoubleClick cleared of wrongdoing

The FTC's investigation, which began in February 2000, focused on whether DoubleClick acted improperly by combining data collected online about consumers, such as the IP (Internet protocol) addresses of computers, with offline data such as names and postal addresses, which DoubleClick acquired when it bought offline marketing company Abacus Direct.

"It appears to (FTC) staff that DoubleClick never used or disclosed consumers' PII (personal identifying information) for purposes other than those disclosed in its privacy policy," the FTC said Monday in a letter to DoubleClick's attorneys.

"Specifically, it appears that DoubleClick did not combine PII from Abacus Direct with clickstream collected on client Web sites. In addition, it appears that DoubleClick has not used sensitive data for any online preference marketing product, in contravention of its stated privacy policy," the FTC said in the letter.

The FTC said it's aware that DoubleClick's Boomerang product collects information about users at one Web site and uses it to target advertising to that user at other Web sites. However, the data gathered by Boomerang doesn't identify a user personally, and the company now requires its customers to post their privacy policies clearly on their Web sites, the FTC said.

The FTC said it could reopen the investigation in the future if it considers it to be in the public interest to do so.

The agency encouraged DoubleClick to follow through on modifications it has pledged to make in the next release of its privacy policy. The proposed modifications include making it clearer to users how they can opt out of DoubleClick's data collection system and explaining to users how the company uses "Web bugs" within Web sites to track users' progress.

For its part, DoubleClick pointed to steps it has taken itself in the past year to protect consumer privacy, including appointing Jules Polonetsky, New York City's former consumer affairs commissioner, as its chief privacy officer; establishing a Consumer Privacy Advisory Board; and commissioning PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct privacy audits.

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