DMA May Make Things Worse: Anti-Spammers

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Not only will the Direct Marketing Association's recently released e-mail guidelines do nothing to limit spam, they may increase it, according to sources from the anti-spam camp.


The DMA's new guidelines allow businesses to contact people with whom they have an existing business relationship, but from whom they may not have received permission for e-mail contact. The DMA refers to this as its "one bite of the apple" philosophy.


But one bite of the apple is one too many, say anti-spammers.


Hardcore spammers responsible for the vast majority of the questionable and outright offensive e-mail flooding people's inboxes are generally not DMA members and, therefore, will not follow any guidelines put forth by the organization.


However, companies that previously hesitated to send e-mail to customers who haven't opted in to that channel may think it's OK to send unsolicted e-mail now, if only once. These companies may see the DMA guidelines as an endorsement of the so-called one-bite-of-the-apple philosophy as a general rule, anti-spammers contend.


And if every company in the United States sent one e-mail, the result would be disastrous, said Rodney Joffe, founder of online marketing services provider Whitehat Inc., Tempe, AZ, and a well-known proponent of opt-in-only e-mail marketing.


"If each of them gets just one chance to e-mail you, and you then opt out, you're still facing 20 million [e-mails], which is obviously unmanageable," Joffe said. "I see this as the DMA board's attempt to retain relevance with their membership who by and large already behave responsibly."


However, natural market pressures make Joffe's deluge scenario highly unlikely, said Jerry Cerasale, DMA senior vice president of government affairs.


"If I'm going to go and anger my customers with an e-mail, that's a problem for the marketer, but we think that marketers should be able to contact their customers," Cerasale said. "A legitimate marketer wants a long-term relationship with you," and, therefore, will avoid angering customers with unwanted e-mail.


The DMA released the guidelines earlier this month, aiming to avoid e-mail marketing regulations and to drive a wedge between its members and sleazy pornography, pyramid-scheme and fraudulent e-mail marketers, or so-called chicken-boners in Net speak. Chicken-boners is a derogatory name anti-spammers use to describe people who live in trailer parks, eat KFC chicken and send spam.


The guidelines rule out prospecting non-permission-based lists, but are not an endorsement of opt-in-only e-mail marketing -- e-mail that goes only to those who request it.


This also predictably does not sit well with anti-spammers.


"[O]pt-out means you can send all the e-mail you want to an address until they cry uncle," said Anne Mitchell, director of public and legal affairs for anti-spam group Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC. "I shouldn't be able to make you have to respond to X different opt-out lists in order to stem the flood of unwanted e-mail filling up your inbox, for which you and your ISP have to pay, in one way or another. It's like a telemarketer calling you collect, and your having to accept the charges, and not being offered the opportunity to decline the charges, before you can tell them 'take me off your call list.'"


The guidelines are also not an endorsement of fully verified, or double opt-in, the e-mail list-building process under which marketers send confirmation e-mail to subscribers to which the subscribers must respond in order to stay on the list.


Anti-spammers long have argued that double opt-in is the only acceptable e-mail address gathering practice because it eliminates the possibility of one person forging another's e-mail address to an unwanted or offensive list.


However, the guidelines still mark a major shift in the DMA's position on spam. The DMA originally did not come out against harvesting and compiling e-mail addresses, for example.


"This is stronger than what the DMA's position had been before," Cerasale said. "This is a bigger push than I think most of the anti-spam folks would give us credit for."


The guidelines, considered a minimum standard by the DMA, are part of the organization's overall Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice, under which noncomplying members reportedly can be expelled. The guidelines are available at The-DMA.org.


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