Privacy din sparks DoubleClick deal

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DoubleClick's decision last week to suspend plans to connect names to anonymous online consumer data drew quick applause from advertising groups and -- more important to DoubleClick -- cautious praise from privacy advocates. But the privacy debate is just beginning.

The leading Web ad network dropped controversial plans to merge names with anonymous online user data "until there is agreement between government and industry on privacy standards," DoubleClick Chairman Kevin O'Connor said.

In an interview with Advertising Age, DoubleClick President Kevin Ryan argues online privacy is far ahead of offline privacy and says legislation, while unlikely this year, "actually could be beneficial" for leading Internet companies.

DoubleClick's chairman last week admitted he made a mistake in planning to merge names with anonymous data "in the absence of government and industry privacy standards."

"It is now time for industry, consumers and government to develop a clear set of guidelines that help create a healthy, free Internet while protecting the privacy of all consumers," Mr. O'Connor said.

DoubleClick came under attack by privacy advocates for its plan to merge data from consumers' Web activity with an offline database it recently acquired. Last week's announcement still leaves room for DoubleClick to proceed with that plan -- as long as it excludes anonymous online "cookie" data.

The Association of National Advertisers and American Advertising Federation commended DoubleClick's action.

Privacy advocates also cautiously praised the move but pressed for regulation and legislation.

"There need to be set rules of the game so that consumers and businesses know what they're getting into," said Dave Banisar, an advocate from Privacy International. "If we don't have set rules, we're just going to play this over and over again."

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