Letter: Industry Can't Operate Like the Old Days Any More

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I'm commenting on Tad Clarke's editorial regarding Fax.com ("Doing the Right Thing and Fax.com," Jan. 19). DM News reader and attorney Walter Oney rightly noted that the actions of one unscrupulous marketer reflect upon the industry as a whole. Amen.

However, it's easy to use egregious examples like this one, in part because they make the rest of the industry seem more righteous by comparison. Yes, those who run Fax.com and others like them should be tarred and feathered. But there are plenty of examples of traditional (read: responsible) marketers who also fail to respect the privacy rights of consumers.

For example, tobacco companies that scan consumers' driver's licenses as part of "market research" programs. Magazine publishers that furtively sell to credit card companies the names of consumers who sign up for trial subscriptions. And marketers who obtain acquisition lists from the same sources as spammers.

The situation in direct marketing is analogous to the textile industry a few years ago. Everyone lambasted Kathy Lee Gifford for allegedly employing children in her clothing factories - until the white light of public scrutiny revealed that many, many other clothing companies were doing the same thing. The days of recklessly trafficking in consumer data are at an end.

We as an industry need to act immediately. We need to band together and adopt firm standards to ensure the privacy of customer data. And not just talk about it - we need to really do it. We need to understand that the old way of conducting business - when we were able to operate under the radar of public scrutiny - those days are over.

We need to have the guts to speak out when some of our industry brethren are not doing the right thing. After all, their wrongs hurt the rest of us. Finally, we need the Direct Marketing Association to stand up, demonstrate some of the leadership that we all know it's capable of wielding and build consensus.

Consumers are angry, and it's only a matter of time before Washington listens and sends more legislation our way. Our lack of movement on these issues sends a message - we are BEGGING government to step in and do what we've proven unwilling or unable to do. Is that really what we want?

So, while I don't disagree with Mr. Oney's assertions, I believe that an equal emphasis should be placed upon ensuring that the traditional marketers also respect consumer privacy.

Alan Chapell, President, Chapell & Associates

New York



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