DMA Announces Privacy Promise, Moves to Expel Members

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The Direct Marketing Association has evolved from educator to enforcer. After more than a year of prodding its membership toward compliance with the guidelines of its Privacy Promise, the company yesterday formally announced the program to the public and said it had commenced action against the 17 members who had refused to endorse the rules of consumer data protection.

The Privacy Promise rules, which went into effect July 1, require that all DMA members who market to consumers must:

* Notify customers if their names will be made available to other companies;

* Provide those customers the opportunity to "opt out" of having their names shared with other companies:

* Have a means of suppressing names internally when customers ask to be removed from marketing lists; and

* Use the DMA's Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service to delete from their marketing lists those consumers who have asked not to be contacted by direct marketers.

"This has not been taken lightly by our members at all," said Pat Faley, vice president of ethics and consumer affairs at the DMA. "They have taken it very seriously, and have really restructured their thinking and their processes to comply with this."

The announcement was endorsed by privacy advocates and government regulators alike.

"We're glad to see that self-regulatory efforts are moving forward," said Ari Schwartz, privacy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a civil liberties advocacy group in Washington, DC. "What we've been saying throughout this debate is that self-regulatory efforts are necessary to institute privacy globally."

The DMA also issued a press release containing endorsements from U.S. Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley and from Federal Trade Commission chairman Robert Pirofsky.

To ensure that members adhere to the new rules, the DMA appointed William Shepherd as compliance coordinator. He will oversee the DMA's efforts to monitor its members' activities by conducting mystery shopper programs and other means. Members who refuse to comply will be expelled from the association and publicly identified.

The 17 members who have opposed the rules were sent letters this week notifying them that they are in violation of the association's rules. They have the right to a appeal to the DMA board, which will meet next in October.

"That's when we expect to see the first people expelled," said Faley.

The DMA has not yet identified the companies that it has taken the action against.

"I think some people think it's inappropriate for trade associations to do this sort of thing, but we think it's absolutely critical in this environment that we make a strong statement on the privacy issue," Faley said.

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