OT - Tech hypocrisy running rampant (comments on AOL, DoubleClick, Microsoft)

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Link dated 2/14 <:)=

America Online and DoubleClick are Exhibits A, B in mockery of integrity


Mercury News Technology Columnist

IF hypocrisy were an Academy Award category, the technology industry would vie with politics for the Oscar. Witness the latest news from some prominent players:

When America Online Inc. announced it was acquiring Time Warner Inc., one of the big questions was whether AOL would maintain its fervent commitment to open access in the cable data market. The company had been among the most active and persuasive advocates for a system under which the cable TV companies, notably AT&T Corp., would be prohibited from forcing high-speed data customers from subscribing to a single, captive Internet service provider, as is now the case. Rather, they'd have to give other ISPs access to the fat data pipes.

Time Warner has vast cable holdings, too -- one of AOL's key reasons for what it quaintly calls a merger, even though it's gaining control over the new entity. Controlling those cable systems means AOL will own fast connections to millions of American households. Sharing those with other ISPs would obviously not be good for AOL's business.

Given this, I joined the chorus of rational skeptics. We were right. As several major news organizations have reported in recent days, AOL's commitment to open access has, ahem, evolved. The giant online media company ordered its lobbyists to tone down, if not turn off, the open-access rhetoric and persuasion. Now, AOL says piously, the marketplace should take care of the situation.

Funny, isn't it, how relying on the marketplace didn't work so well when AOL was on the outside looking in?

AOL's insincerity is completely understandable. It's simply doing the best thing for shareholders.

But the sheer cynicism should make you gag. And it points up the increasing need for a willfully blind Federal Communications Commission and Congress to face up to the latest monopoly play.

Next up in the hypocrisy parade comes DoubleClick Inc., the Web-advertising company with a business model that depends on invading consumers' privacy. Web sites pay DoubleClick to keep track of consumers' surfing and then serve up ads based on observations of what consumers do online. DoubleClick calls it targeted marketing. I call it surveillance. We're both right.

DoubleClick forces consumers to jump through hoops to opt out of the surveillance, which is bad enough. Matters got worse last year when the company bought Abacus Direct, a direct-marketing company that collects data on millions of consumers and households. The purchase amounted to a double-cross, because DoubleClick had said it would never link consumers' surfing with their actual names and addresses.

Organizations that work to protect people's privacy went ballistic over DoubleClick's broken promise. The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a formal complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, which has been talking a good game on protecting privacy while doing almost nothing useful.

Still, the furor had an impact. On Monday, DoubleClick announced a ``five-point consumer on-line privacy initiative'' including a new Web site (www.privacychoices.org) devoted to educating consumers.

The initiative is useful in some ways. It's about time DoubleClick admitted it's been less than forthcoming about what it's been doing.

But the overall thrust of the initiative is to spin consumers toward DoubleClick's side of the debate -- to persuade consumers that surveillance is good for them. If you buy that, you'll be happy to let me tail you around your favorite shopping mall with a video camera, recording every window you look into and every purchase you make and then, if I choose, sell what I learn to other people.

By the way, DoubleClick claims to have ``the most advanced privacy policies and practices in the online advertising industry.'' Isn't that comforting?

It's almost as reassuring to know that our favorite monopolist, Microsoft Corp., is so confident of its stranglehold over the personal-computer operating system market that it can ship Windows 2000 despite, apparently, the presence of more than a few bugs. ZDNet, the online news service, quotes from an internal memorandum from a Microsoft manager who reasonably asks the company's developers, ```How many of you would spend $500 on a piece of software with over 63,000 potential known defects?''

The best line in the story comes from an unnamed Microsoft spokesperson. ``All software ships with issues,'' she says, in a classic example of Microspeak.

The hypocrisy here isn't that Windows 2000 has bugs. All software has bugs, though tens of thousands of bugs does seem a wee bit high.

No, the galling part is Microsoft's leadership of an anti-consumer movement that would give the software industry carte blanche to sell you defective products, with almost no recourse whatever for the consumer.

The industry is pushing state legislatures, as I've reported here before, to enact the so-called Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act, or UCITA. This abomination would undermine the few protections now available to customers of software, Internet services, e-commerce and other products and services. It's making headway in several other states, and is likely to be a hot issue in the California legislature this year.

When the software industry stops trying to force UCITA on you and me, I'll be more inclined to believe its desire to ship non-defective products.

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), February 16, 2000


More on the DoubleClick story dated 2/15 <:)=

Consumer Groups Bash DoubleClick

Consumer groups bashed Internet advertiser DoubleClick's new privacy policy education campaign today, calling the plan "disingenuous" and an affront to online consumers everywhere.

DoubleClick made the announcement after coming under fire for reversing its long-held consumer privacy policy of not matching aggregate consumer data with personally identifiable information. Consumer groups say DoubleClick's merger with Abacus Direct Corp., a data-warehousing company that records consumers' catalog purchases, has given the banner-ad giant the tools it needs to begin tracking the surfing and buying habits of consumers. They claim that the company's plan to require consumers to "opt out" of its data collection activities is unfair and deceptive.

"This is a lot like saying consumers who don't want salesmen barging into their homes should place 'Do Not Disturb' signs on their door, rather than locking it," said Jason Catlett, president of Junkbusters Corp.

DoubleClick announced Monday that it had taken out full-page ads in a number of major metropolitan newspapers and had created 50 million banner ads that would direct consumers to a Web site on privacy rights, www.privacychoices.org . The site also allows consumers "opt out" of DoubleClick's data collection activities, and contains links to a number of privacy watchdog groups, some of the company's fiercest critics.

DoubleClick officials also said they will contract with accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to audit their privacy policies, and to make sure their practices are in accordance with them. In addition, company officials said they would only do business with online publishing companies that have a stated privacy policy, though they did not make clear what that standard would be. Finally, DoubleClick will create a privacy board and a "chief privacy officer" to act as an ombudsman to field customer complaints and oversee the company's privacy activities.

But consumer advocates took issue with nearly every step of DoubleClick's proposed plan. DoubleClick has contracted with PricewaterhouseCoopers on previous occasions to run so- called "audits" on their privacy practices, Catlett said, the results of which have never been made publicly available.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), pointed out that despite repeated questioning by reporters, DoubleClick would not elaborate on what type of privacy policy the company would require of its business partners before agreeing to work with them. EPIC recently filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about the ramifications of the DoubleClick/Abacus merger.

A major issue with almost every consumer privacy group is the level of access that consumers are given to information collected about them. In Europe, not only must consumers give their consent before information can be collected about them, but they also have the right to access that information and make corrections to it where necessary. Interestingly, representatives from both DoubleClick and EPIC were recently chosen to serve on the board of the FTC's Advisory Commission on Online Access and Security (ACOAS), which is seeking to hammer out some kind of agreement between technology companies and consumer groups over consumer's access to information collected about them.

DoubleClick president Kevin Ryan said that the company did not currently have the security measures in place to protect information accessed over a user interface format. But Catlett called Ryan's reasoning unacceptable, since companies like DoubleClick could simply put the information in an envelope and send it off to the consumer, much like credit reporting agencies are required to do when a consumer requests the results of their credit report.

Catlett added that DoubleClick's program amounts to a lame attempt to self-regulate consumer privacy in an era that increasingly demands federal laws that spell out acceptable privacy practices.

"DoubleClick claimed they were only network that doesn't use or sell a consumer's credit and health information," Catlett said. "If you take statement like that at face value, they're describing their industry as one that is totally out of control and needs to be regulated."

Privacy groups are advocating legislation that requires "opt-in" - or affirmative informed consent - before profiling online, the terms of which were outlined in a bill introduced last Thursday by Senator Robert Torricelli, D-NJ. Many of the consumer groups would also like to see language in that legislation that would provide individuals with a private right of action against any company that profiles them illegally and guarantee the individual's right to see their profiles.

For his part, Ryan has maintained that the Internet is driven by advertising, and that advertising companies need to know their substantial investments are being spent in the best way possible - that is, targeted to the right audience. Without more accurate feedback mechanisms, Ryan said, much of the gratis content on the Internet would no longer be able to remain free.

Catlett said that response was typical, and reflects the advertising industry's indifference to consumers' concerns about how their private information is handled.

"This is really just window dressing on their previous position, which is that they're going to profile as much as they feel like unless people try to opt out," Catlett said. "And given level of profiling going on, and their previous statements to the public, we believe this is unacceptable."

Junkbusters is on the Web at http://www.junkbusters.com .

EPIC can be found at http://www.epic.org .

Reported by Newsbytes.com

-- Sysman (y2kboard@yahoo.com), February 16, 2000.

Too tired to read it all....just another opportunity to say 'AOL SUCKS'. Like Klinton and McCain and Bush and....ad infinitum

-- canthappen (n@ysayer.com), February 16, 2000.

Hackers!!!Now there is a worthwhile Target for You,get busy....

-- xyz (abc@efg.hij), February 16, 2000.

All those who are surprised, raise your hands. Ah, I thought not...

-- Mara (MaraWayne@aol.com), February 16, 2000.

Sysman, thanks, interesting reading. Once again,we the customers a gettin` screwed. If it`s not Big Brother, it`s his Big Sister- Corporate America. God help us.

-- NoJo (RSKeiper@aol.com), February 16, 2000.

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