Privacy Organizations to Certify Commercial E-Mail

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Web site privacy certification organization TRUSTe and privacy consultancy ePrivacy Group today are expected to announce a certification and seal program for commercial e-mail called Trusted Sender.


The program, which will be unveiled at the Privacy and Security Summit in Washington, places a seal in the top right corner of each e-mail message from a Trusted Sender program participant. The seal is intended to let consumers verify that the message is not spam and that the company sending the message is in compliance with the program's guidelines. The guidelines of the voluntary program state that the subject line of the message must accurately reflect the content of the e-mail and that the message must contain a way for the recipient to easily request to opt-out of future e-mails from the company.


Beta testing the program are Microsoft Corp., DoubleClick Inc. and Topica. Also agreeing to support the program are RappCollins, Innovyx, E-Dialog, Enterprise Marketing Solutions Inc. and Virtumundo.


TRUSTe, which until now has been concentrating on certifying the privacy of Web sites, also will apply its privacy dispute resolution expertise to the program. In addition, ePrivacy Group's Postiva Trust Stamp technology will be used, enabling real-time verification of an e-mail message as authentic.


"We've decided to tackle e-mail because e-mail is broken," said Fran Maier, executive director at TRUSTe. "The volume and problem is so big that we needed a technology solution."


While the Trusted Sender program will not necessarily eliminate spam, it is a way for consumers to verify that the e-mail they receive is legitimate and for marketers to feel confident that many of their messages will be opened, Maier said.


The Trusted Sender program is aimed at any marketer that sends e-mail. Pricing will be based on the volume of mail sent and will range from $4,000 to $14,000 for an annual license.


"Large mailers have seen their response rates go down," said Vincent Schiavone, president/CEO of ePrivacy Group. "E-mail is such a pain for everyone in the chain. We're looking to turn the lose, lose, lose to a win, win, win situation."


TRUSTe's Maier said the organization is hoping the government and some of the organization's partners will produce public service announcements to educate consumers about the program.


According to Ray Everett-Church, the recently appointed chief privacy officer of ePrivacy Group, the Trusted Sender program should help eliminate the worries of marketers that think their e-mail campaigns will be perceived as spam.


"Many marketers have been hesitant to truly embrace e-mail as the centerpiece of modern CRM and direct marketing efforts because of the fear of being labeled a spammer," Everett-Church said. "The idea is that when consumers see the Trusted Sender seal, they'll know the e-mail is from a company they can trust to treat them fairly and respect their privacy. There will come a day when commercial e-mail that doesn't bear some sort of trust-enhancing seal will rightly be seen as suspicious."


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