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April 23, 2001
States Settle With DoubleClick

SEATTLE -- An agreement involving Washington and nine other states will require the nation's leading Internet-advertising service to better inform consumers when the company gathers information about the web-surfing activities of Internet users, Attorney General Christine Gregoire said today.


Under the agreement filed today in Thurston County Superior Court, New York-based DoubleClick Inc. will make it easier for consumers to know when their visits to particular web sites are being tracked through the use of "cookies."

A cookie is a file left on a personal computer after a visit to a web site. The cookie registers visits to subsequent web sites, and that information can then be accessed the next time the user visits the site where the cookie was installed. The information about the user's web-surfing habits can then be used to target specific advertising to that web surfer.

Because of the number of online advertisers and web sites that contract with DoubleClick for services, nearly every computer user is tagged with DoubleClick cookies at one time or another.

The agreement with Doubleclick ends a 30-month investigation by attorneys general into the company's use of cookies.

The biggest concern, Gregoire said, was that DoubleClick could easily merge the information from cookies with other personal information --such as a computer user's name and address--obtained from other sources. The agreement prohibits DoubleClick from using personally identifiable information in targeting ads.

Under terms of the settlement, DoubleClick must do more to make Internet users aware they are being tracked through the use of cookies. For example, web sites that contract with DoubleClick will have to inform consumers in their privacy policies that DoubleClick is usingcookies. Furthermore, consumers will be able sign up for automatic notices of any change in DoubleClick's privacy policies.

"Cookies create a record of a web surfer's travels like footprints in the sand," Gregoire said. "Today's agreement with a major Internet advertiser will go far toward helping consumers guard their privacy on line."

Under the agreement, a third party will evaluate how well DoubleClick conforms to its own privacy policy and its agreement with the states.

The company is also working on development of a "cookie viewer" that will enable consumers to see the information stored on their computers that allows DoubleClick to aim specific advertising.

In addition to Washington, other states involved in the DoubleClick settlement are New York, California, Connecticut, Michigan, Arizona, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Vermont.


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