After reading Mary Pipher's review of Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight the Addictive Power of Advertising by Jean Kilbourne, forwarded to an email list I'm on, I wrote an extended reply in January, 2000. I mentioned DoubleClick in it, as a force to be reckoned with. They first got on my radar thanks to Philip Greenspun's online version of his book, Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing, wherein he details how they track, accumulate, and cross-reference your online behavior for themselves and their clients. Greenspun notes "Of course, Double Click assures everyone that your privacy is assured."
In my message, I suggested that web advertising "as attractive nuisance" was not particulary effective, but that the bad news was, it was likely to be "fixed" to serve market forces.
The next day, a Wall Street Journal page affirmed my concerns about what DoubleClick's doing "behind the scenes," and how online advertising is evolving. Perhaps it was nothing more than the bad taste to serve up a particularly bloated piece of advertising, but I found it to be a breach of trust, and reason enough to scratch Walter Mossberg's "Personal Technology" website from my list of potential destinations.
I wrote to Mossberg, telling him what I thought of his site's underhanded advertising. He may well have been uninformed about the methods, but given what he writes about -- to say nothing about the irony of the particular column at hand -- he should know better. He blew me off; he had nothing to do with WSJ advertising, even though he was happy to critique other companies' behavior.
In the following months, Double Click was in the news quite a bit. Two pieces ran in national newspapers on the same subject: Charles J. Sykes' "Rule of Law" column in The Wall Street Journal on 24.Jan, "Your Best Defense Against Big Brother: You," and a piece by Will Rodger in the 26.Jan USA Today, "Surfer beware: Advertiser's on your trail."
Sykes' piece starts out about the Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold Congress' attempt to safeguard the privacy of drivers' license records with the 1994 Drivers Privacy Protection Act. You have the right to refuse permission to the state to see your personal information. If you grant permission (practically, if you do not refuse it), your state will be happy to sell the information on your driver's license to anyone who asks for it by referencing your vehicle's license plate number.
His point is that this is a small consolation, given the current traffic in personal information. Scott McNealy tells us to "get over" our loss of privacy, but polls find it our greatest concern about the new century. In describing the mechanics of our loss, he notes that "the Internet hypercharges the process."
Sykes is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the author of The End of Privacy.
The USA Today piece was directly on point. They just learned that Double Click "has begun tracking Web users' online movements, not just by anonymous identifying numbers but also by their actual names, addresses and real-world purchasing habits." As Greenspun described years ago, they can do this even if you haven't bought anything, or registered with the particular site they've infected.
If you've ever registered for something on the web, it's likely that information will eventually be linked into Double Click's database.
They say Double Click now has 11,500 website clients, and a hundred million user files, and is combining this database with the one they got when they bought Abacus Direct in June 1999.
On Feb. 18, the San Jose Mercury News reported off AP and Reuters that Michigan's Attorney General's office had begun legal proceedings against the company, and that it faces "five other similar lawsuits as well as government inquiries in Washington and New York" (where the company is based). In his eJournal column Dan Gillmor says it's about time that "the FTC and several state governments are finally taking a close look at DoubleClick, the company that sells Net surveillance -- or targeted advertising, depending on your point of view."
He predicts that they'll find nothing illegal, and I expect he's right. He goes on to say "the law will eventually catch up with these outrageous invasions of privacy." I think he's wrong there. It's going to be up to us to protect our own privacy.
In July, Joel Sapolsky reports on the attack potential in Microsoft Passport, embedding the technology deeper into your applications and/or operating system. (Microsoft likes to blur or sharpen the distinction between the two to suit particular purposes.) (Jason Levine complains that it's just unsubstantiated FUD.)
Doc Searls' open letter to Meg Whitman (the CEO of E-bay) responds to E-bay's decision to become yet another advertising medium. [Oct. 2000]
Advertising is not the only attack front, of course. The U.S. passed
its Bill of Rights in reponse to familiar encroachment from the British
government, with very different traditions.
The Standard report (July 27, 2000)
on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers bill
shows us how incredibly different: all U.K. ISPs will have to send
all traffic to the government, and give up encryption keys on
request, and the person complying with such a request is forbidden to tell
anyone -- even the managers of the company s/he works for! (And yes, the
Standard's site has DoubleClick ads...)
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org