The company has been in the hot seat lately for its intent to monitor what you do online. It didn't take Net ad agencies long to realize that by tracking a person through his cookie's ID number, they could gradually assemble a profile of his interests, even if they didn't know his name and address. Last November, DoubleClick went further by buying Abacus Direct, a company that profiles 88 million households that use snail mail to buy merchandise from catalogs. The merger promised a wholesale linkup of Abacus's addresses and phone numbers with the ID numbers on Internet cookies — once you've been tagged with a cookie a lot of other people are going to be aware of who you are and where you've been. In the furor that followed, DoubleClick put its strategy on hold pending a review by the Federal Trade Commission and several states.
Not so long ago, I thought I would take a look at the cookies I had amassed over the last few months. These days, as just about everyone knows, cookies — small files of code that one computer sends to another — are being used as ID tags to monitor what people do on the Web. I found my cookies with a nifty search program called Retrieve-It, which I got at a California computer store; it has a "peek" feature that converts the code to readable English. I had about 30 cookies, including some from Amazon, CNN.com and MSN.com. DoubleClick, an online ad agency, was fourth on the list.