*List Owners Feel Privacy Heat

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NEW YORK -- List owners will soon find themselves at the center of debates over consumer privacy and permission-based e-mail marketing, said several speakers at the Direct Marketing Association List Vision 2000 conference here last week.


"The list industry is near the bull's-eye of the [privacy] debate," said DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen. He predicted the privacy issue, stoked by the national media and politicians, would be swept into a whirlwind by the time the 2000 elections arrive. "Both candidates have already started taking positions."


Wientzen encouraged list owners and managers, especially those with e-mail lists, to establish and enforce strong privacy policies that keep list members informed about how their information would be used and let them opt out easily.


"Privacy policies from now on need guts and muscles, not smoke and mirrors," he said. "Nothing will substitute for doing what's right for the consumer."


A mild disagreement broke out between two speakers regarding the role of list brokers in the still-developing e-marketing space. Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president at Worldata/WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL, said the realities of e-mail marketing require brokers to consult and advise clients about the lists and also warn them about the hazards of sending unwanted or inappropriate e-mails.


Donn Rappaport, chairman and founding partner of American List Counsel, said clients do need that advice but stated adamantly that list brokers should not take on that extra responsibility. Instead, he said brokerage firms should hire technology specialists to handle that function and leave the broker free to focus on core marketing concerns.


Schwedelson and Rappaport bemoaned the "unchecked" power of Internet service providers to control the flow of e-mail through their networks.


"Right now ISPs have control over this environment," Schwedelson said. "They are the government. They are big brother." He also criticized the recently passed House of Representatives legislation H.R. 3113, which enables ISPs to determine spam and petition the courts for restitution.


Another List Vision 2000 speaker, Ben Isaacson, executive director for the Association for Interactive Media, which is the DMA's online arm, said marketers would gain more from reaching out to the ISPs than battling them through the courts or Congress.


"Establish a relationship with the ISPs. They are businesses, too," he said, and would be willing to learn about a marketer's business model and e-mail policies. There is, however, one caveat. "Establish the relationship at the CEO level," he said, and not at the level of the incoming mail watchdogs.


In a discussion about the various levels of opt-in permission, Tim Dolan, vice president of list management and brokerage at e-mail marketer Bigfoot Interactive, New York, suggested a guideline for companies starting to compile e-mail lists. The level of permission a list needs depends on the list owner's plans for it.


If a company is building an e-mail list for its internal use, a standard opt in is enough, he said. But if the company intends to open the list to third-party marketers, it should obtain a confirmed opt-in or, even better, a verified (double) opt-in permission.
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