Online Industry Groups Oppose E-Mail Registry

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Three more interactive industry groups joined the opposition to the proposed creation of a do-not-e-mail list, saying it would not reduce spam but would hurt legitimate businesses.


The Interactive Advertising Bureau, E-mail Service Provider Coalition and TRUSTe released a study of the proposal yesterday. It found that creating a do-not-e-mail registry, as called for under the CAN-SPAM Act, would be a costly exercise in futility, sowing consumer confusion and burdening small businesses.


"That not only costs money but it takes time and resources away from more promising efforts" to fight spam, said Trevor Hughes, executive director of the ESPC, an offshoot of the Network Advertising Initiative.


Hughes noted that the e-mail marketing industry had made great strides in solving the twin problems of e-mail authentication and reputation that will do more to stop spammers than regulations.


Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL each have championed different authentication protocols, designed to combat e-mail spoofing, in recent months. Under the current system, Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, a spammer easily can forge the return address on e-mail, making tracing the source of spam extremely difficult.


The Federal Trade Commission has until June 16 to submit a plan to Congress for the registry's implementation, along with potential drawbacks and costs. The ESPC and TRUSTe filed comments with the FTC prior to the March 31 deadline; the IAB did not file comments.


The FTC is on record opposing such a list, modeled after the no-call registry, saying it would do little to stop spam.


Marketers have echoed these doubts. The Direct Marketing Association this month published a study on the effects of a registry, estimating it would cost U.S. businesses more than $5 billion. The DMA's position was supported in a letter submitted by 21 trade groups, including the Association of National Advertisers, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


The IAB, ESPC and TRUSTe have taken a more aggressive approach to combating spam than the DMA. Last October, in the wake of the DMA leaving spam undefined in its e-mail best practices document, the three groups linked to release guidelines of their own that defined spam as "commercial e-mail sent without an existing business relationship or prior informed consent."


The Internet groups' study says that spammers likely would ignore the registry since most already violate existing law. That would shift the entire burden of compliance to legitimate marketers. It also points out that unlike telemarketers, spammers are not legitimate businesses that can be held accountable, and the cost of e-mail is infinitesimal compared with telemarketing.


The study also raises technological hurdles for a do-not-e-mail list. First, the existing structure of the SMTP e-mail protocol makes tracing the actual sender difficult. Second, the study claims that the volume of e-mail subject to such a list would drive its technology costs through the roof. Third, the list would create a single point of failure for marketers, putting all their campaigns at risk from one technological failure. Finally, the study notes that a registry would create a prime target for hackers and spammers to attack.


"If we get this wrong, we could put ourselves back months, if not years, in the fight against spam," Hughes said.


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