DMA Debuts E-Mail Preference Service

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The Direct Marketing Association is expected to launch its E-Mail Preference Service today, but not everyone believes it will be enough to quell consumer anger over unsolicited bulk commercial e-mail.


The service -- free to consumers at www.e-mps.org -- will allow people worldwide to opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial e-mails from DMA members and other marketers who choose to use it. E-MPS, which was formally introduced at the DMA's fall conference in Toronto, is similar to its Telephone Preference Service and Mail Preference Service. As a component of its Privacy Promise, the DMA requires members who market to consumers to use E-MPS when using e-mail to prospect to consumers.


Direct marketing organizations in the UK, Australia, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Canada also support the service as agreed upon by the Global Symposium more than a year ago, said Pat Faley, senior vice president of ethics and consumer affairs at the DMA.


"The site is currently available in English and French, and the goal is to make it available in other languages," she said. "Then, the browser will identify what language the consumer needs to use."


Members who market to consumers will be required to cross-reference their e-mail lists with the E-MPS list to remove addresses of consumers who have registered. The service will be available to business-to-business marketers as a customer service, but the DMA will require only consumer marketers to use it.


"Privacy is an individual [rather than a business] concept," Faley said.


The DMA said it would enforce members' use of E-MPS through consumer complaints.


The service will cost marketers $100 per year, whether or not they're DMA members. The goal is for marketers to use E-MPS every time a prospecting e-mail is sent out to clean their lists, Faley said. E-MPS will be updated daily.


Critics say E-MPS is based on the flawed premise that opt-out marketing is an acceptable approach with e-mail, and two groups - the Spam Recycling Center and the Forum for Responsible and Ethical E-mail - last week called for a consumer and e-business boycott of E-MPS. David Sorkin, professor at the John Marshall Law School's Center for Information Technology and Privacy Law in Chicago, said an opt-out system won't work because of the dynamics of e-mail and the economics of spam. Recipients of e-mail solicitations generally incur costs that exceed the benefits of the solicitations, he said.


Sorkin is a proponent of opt-in e-mail marketing, where solicitations only go to people who have already agreed to receive them.


He called E-MPS "a horribly designed opt-out system," and said few consumers are likely to register because of a lack of trust in the DMA. Non-DMA members will be unlikely to use E-MPS as well.


"The DMA is in a difficult position on e-mail marketing," he said. "They want to maximize possibilities for direct marketers to reach consumers - but at the same time, the DMA wants to appear to be doing something about spam because of their fear that government will further regulate direct marketing."


E-MPS is fundamentally flawed because it stems from the belief that the same marketing approaches that work offline will work online, said Ray Everett-Church, chief privacy office and vice president of public policy at AllAdvantage.com, San Francisco. Consumers "strongly and widely" dislike spam, he said, and opt-out is fine for telephone marketing and direct mail, but it doesn't work for e-mail.


Meanwhile, marketers recognize the need for the service or one like it, but foresee potential problems.


"The industry is certainly in need of this valuable service, but there are some big drawbacks," said Robin Lebo, director of customer acquisition at electronics cataloger Crutchfield Corp., Charlottesville, VA. One challenge is the difficulty of distinguishing a customer, she said. For example, if someone requests a catalog but has yet to order, and then registers at E-MPS, are they a customer - and, therefore, still fair game for an e-mail?


Also, using E-MPS will be time-consuming for companies that use e-mail often, said Lebo, who would like to see the DMA set up a way for consumers to be selective about the kinds of e-mails they do and don't want.
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