The investigation, which initially came to light in February, was triggered when the ad company revealed plans to integrate online tracking data with offline personal information — such as individual names, addresses and shopping patterns — taken from the extensive catalogs of Abacus Direct Corp., a direct marketing services company that DoubleClick acquired in 1999.
A firestorm of controversy erupted, after privacy advocates raised concerns that the correlated data would lead to gross invasions of consumer privacy. Many also feared that the personal data would be sold to any company or organization that wanted to buy it for a fee.
DoubleClick subsequently decided to forego its proposed integration of the data, a fact that played a significant role in the FTC’s decision to drop its inquiry. The government agency had been looking into whether DoubleClick was “engaged in unfair or deceptive acts or practices” with regard to its data gathering system.
Added Winston: “Specifically, it appears that DoubleClick did not combine [personal information] from Abacus Direct with clickstream collected on client sites.”
The FTC also noted that it “reserves the right to take further action as the public interest may require.”
In addition, the FTC cited DoubleClick’s “commitment” to the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), an industry-led consortium that has agreed to uphold a set of self-regulatory data-privacy and ethical standards.
Although the FTC investigation of DoubleClick is over, many privacy advocates say the case proves that federal laws are needed to safeguard consumer privacy on the Internet. The current Congress is widely expected to propose such legislation this year.