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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

AsiaweekTimeAsia NowAsiaweek technology

APRIL 7, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 13

Up Close And Too Personal
"If you establish yourself now as the number-one player, your market share is probably taken care of for the next five to 10 years''


COVER: Asia's Dotcom Shakeout
Internet mania continues, but many of the region's Web start-ups will have short, unhappy lives
Privacy: Online advertisers know (almost) everything about you
Valuations: How to price Internet stocks
Cutting Edge: A microchip helps a paralyzed man walk

Asiaweek/CNN Tech Index: Tracks 20 hot Asian tech stocks
Technology Home

Ever felt like Big Brother is watching you when you're surfing the Internet? Guess what: he is. You may not be aware of it, but as you move from website to website, you leave a trail of data behind you called a click stream that reveals where you've been and what you've seen. Over time these data build up into a detailed profile of your surfing habits. That's information that online marketers are willing to pay for. And many of the websites you visit are only too willing to sell.

Don't freak out. So far you're just an anonymous number in a sea of digits and your online profile is used for nothing more sinister than serving up banner advertisements tailored to your tastes. But privacy advocates argue that you should be concerned. Their worry is that eventually your online profile will be matched with your name and address, putting a face to actions that you probably feel should stay private.

In February, DoubleClick, the leading online advertising network, attempted to do just that. The New York-based firm, which serves banner ads to sites that account for almost 50% of Internet traffic, tried to merge its information on Web surfers with data from Abacus Direct, a database firm it acquired last year for $1.7 billion. Abacus's files contain details of the catalog purchases of some 88 million U.S. households - complete with names, addresses and phone numbers.

Controversy ensued when the maneuver came to light. DoubleClick CEO Kevin O'Connor backed down on March 2, admitting he "made a mistake." The U-turn halted a sliding stock price, but the plan has been shelved rather than buried. O'Connor vows to return to the subject when the government and the Internet industry agree to privacy standards. Privacy groups see no reason why advertisers need the name and address of their target demographic to make sales pitches. Anonymity should prevail, they argue, leaving users the option of providing personal details on request. DoubleClick insists that consumer fears are misplaced and that effective targeting of ads is essential if content on the Internet is to remain free - a revenue model that surfers have been only too keen to embrace.

The standoff in the U.S. contrasts with the situation in Asia, where the privacy debate has so far been muted. "Profiling people is expensive," says Matei Mihalca, an Internet analyst with Merrill Lynch. "It's expensive in the software you need to use and the storage space you need to keep all the data. Many even well-known portals in Asia do not engage in it because at this point in their development it doesn't make sense." But the continuing skirmishes over privacy in the U.S. will be instructive for Asia as its Net economy grows.

Most important is the need to allay netizens' suspicions that they are being snooped on. "There are a lot of misconceptions in the user community," says Joe Sweeney, Asia Pacific research director with Gartner Group. He points to the controversy surrounding cookies, small software markers placed by websites on computer hard drives that allow sites to personalize content. "It's ridiculous; cookies don't track you at all," says Sweeney. "But there's a lot of fear. Dotcoms have to alleviate that by either working within some form of legal guideline or by making very clear statements of policy and then sticking to them." DoubleClick, he points out, had a policy and then changed it. The company now is promising to work within any guidelines established in the Asian countries it operates in. Guidelines which so far, as in the U.S., are few and far between

Technology Home | Asiaweek Home


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