posted Nov 14, 2000

The Internet’s chastened child
Privacy from Companies
11/14/2000; 4:49:27 PM

'As in a Greek tragedy, it was the characteristics that had brought Mr O’Connor so far that eventually failed him. A belief that he could write the rules for advertising on the web, because “there were no rules,” led him to miss the wider social and political impact of what DoubleClick was doing. The trigger was last year’s $1.7 billion acquisition of Abacus, America’s largest off-line database, which contains profiles of 90% of households, compiled from magazine subscriptions and store receipts. Unlike DoubleClick’s data, which is entirely anonymous, Abacus had 88m real names and addresses. Mr O’Connor realised that, by marrying the two, he could identify individual web users and not only track, but also predict their behaviour—making online advertising even more science than art. And he would have data that advertisers would pay through the nose for.

'Mr O’Connor has exposed online advertising and the Internet as a whole to the thing he hates most: interference from bureaucrats that could sap its ability to evolve and adapt. In July the FTC launched its own online privacy guidelines, and it is lobbying Congress for legislation. Worse, by giving the impression that surfers are under constant surveillance by companies such as DoubleClick, he may deter people from using the Internet altogether. The notion that Mr O’Connor has turned from free-wheeling arch-capitalist into a latter-day Big Brother is ironic indeed.'


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