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Another day, another DoubleClick privacy PR disaster

This time it's Web form data 'spillage'

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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 (is this a joke job title, or what?), told AP. "It won't ever be involved in how we deliver ads."

But what could other less reputable concerns do with such data captured inadvertently from unwitting Web sites?

DoubleClick's inadvertent data capture from unwitting Web sites was unmasked by Richard Smith, a computer security and privacy consultant of Massachusetts.

While surfing Drkoop.com, the health Web sitefor information about diabetes, he discovered that information he entered, including "his e-mail address and the disease he was researching - was transmitted without his permission to an advertising company".

Digging deeper, Smith checked out a variety of unwitting Web sites, among them AltaVista, RealNetworks and Travelocity, which also coughed up personally identifying information to DoubleClick.

This inadvertent data 'spillage' is pinpointed to form-filling on Web sites. According to AP, this may be "automatically sent to various outside parties - often companies like DoubleClick that place Internet ads and track how many people see them".

Using what AP describes as specialised tracking software, Smith reproduced his findings yesterday (June 13, 2000) for the US Senate Commerce committee. "It's almost like they have put hidden microphones in our homes and our offices and they are listening to what we do all day long," AP reports him saying.

The six senators at the hearing appear to agree: they all say Web privacy legislation is required.

Apparently new versions of Web forms do not pass on this information. So it is up to the Web sites to update their software. DoubleClick says it is educating Web sites to change their forms.

DoubleClick shoots itself in the foot. Again

This is getting tiresome. And it's where we have to declare an interest. Again.

The Register uses DoubleClick DART ad-serving software. We use a third party ad server, because that's what advertisers require.

DoubleClick does not represent The Register for ad media sales. We flog our own ads. We have a Web form on our site - it's the search engine box - however, no search engine pages are DART- tagged. This is changing soon, but we'll make damn sure that any Web form we use will ensure there is no data 'spillage'. We pass on no information to DoubleClick or to other third parties.

DART reports supplies us with demographics information - the reports can tell us how many people are coming onto our site, and to a reasonably accurate extent what country they come from. We also know how many ads we've served, and how many people have clicked on them. But the reports cannot tell us who are.

This information is gathered through the use of cookies - which can be switched off by turning off this feature at DoubleClick's own Web site.

DoubleClick DART tells us that the information gathered through these reports belong to us - and that it does not aggregate this information with other Web sites, behind our backs. ®

Related story

AP: Web sites unknowingly send data to advertisers, consultant charges

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