DMA: Only 1% Didn't Sign the Privacy Promise

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The Direct Marketing Association will confirm next week that nearly two-thirds of it members -- mostly consumer-oriented businesses -- have endorsed its Privacy Promise. This means only 1 percent of those who were required did not sign on to meet the July 1 deadline.

However, the announcement will only note highlights; it won't name the estimated 35 companies that have refused compliance, nor will it make any immediate moves to discharge such members without further negotiations. About one-third of the DMA's 4,500 members are in the business-to-business category and weren't required to pledge their support.

Despite the subtle details, sheer numbers alone will allow the DMA to claim a significant and timely victory for consumer direct marketers and hard-line free enterprisers alike. But Congress has yet to make up its mind on whether legislation is needed to strike a balance between protecting consumers' personal information, business interests and trade relations policy with Europe.

Potentially complicating matters further was last month's announcement that Microsoft Corp., Redmond, WA, will begin requiring its advertising partners to adopt privacy policies in accordance with the stricter FTC guidelines. Microsoft also has hinted that it is developing software to ensure consumers' privacy while visiting Web sites or making purchases over the Internet. If such a product emerges and gains popularity, it could conceivably trump the DMA's policy and eventually the way its member companies interact with consumers online and offline.

When the DMA's privacy promise was first unveiled at the fall show two years ago, analysts noted that it didn't meet many of the standards of international fair information practices surrounding self-regulation. But many business leaders have argued that this is a policy mop-up area that eventually could be addressed by the marketplace or such self-regulatory solutions proposed by Microsoft through software.

Despite the drumbeat of increasing political tensions worldwide over privacy issues, Connie LaMotta, senior vice president of public relations and communications at the DMA, discounted that such a conundrum between business an government would likely materialize anytime soon, nor that it threatened the organization's role in the issue.

"First of all, that is a really big supposition," she said. "The issue is consumer confidence in the marketplace. At this point, there is no decision to change the DMA's policy -- but that doesn't mean that we are against market leaders taking other positions. Anything that raises consumer confidence is a good step."

Regarding the 1 percent of the DMA consumer marketing membership that has yet to sign the Privacy Promise, LaMotta said discussions will continue on an individual basis. Those who continue to refuse will find their cases before the DMA's ethics committee, which will make recommendations to the board of directors when it meets in October.

Companies that have signed the promise soon will receive a copy of the DMA's new privacy logo.

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