AIM Releases E-Mail Merge/Purge Guidelines

The Association for Interactive Media's Council for Responsible E-mail is expected to release e-mail merge/purge guidelines today.

Merge/purge, the process by which duplicate names are removed before mailing to multiple rented lists, is a staple of direct mail marketing. But questions about data security have long made e-mail merge/purge a contentious topic because the process requires that list owners be comfortable sending their data to multiple service providers.

“[E-mail] list owners haven't been willing to relinquish their names outside their service providers,” said Deb Goldstein, president of IDG List Services, Framingham, MA. “It's an issue of trust.”

It is also an issue that has been floating around the industry for several years.

“It's definitely been an FAQ [frequently asked question] in my presentations,” she said.

As a result, AIM's guidelines are meant as a template that can be incorporated into an e-mail list rental agreement, much like those that exist in the postal world.

All the major players in traditional list management and e-mail marketing reportedly have signed off on the guidelines in hopes that e-mail data transfers will happen more freely, and that the industry will mature as a result.

“There are a couple companies promoting the fact that they do e-mail merge/purge,” said Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president at Internet marketing services firm Worldata/WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL. “That does not help an industry. That helps those companies.

“Can a list owner take this document and add 10 other things to make them feel comfortable? Absolutely,” he said. “Are these the low-hanging-fruit issues that most list owners and list providers have? No doubt about it. And that's what we wanted to get at.”

Member companies of the council that participated in developing the guidelines include 24/7 Media, Bigfoot Interactive, DoubleClick, Experian IDG List Services, MessageMedia, Rapp Collins Worldwide, Veripost and Worldata/WebConnect.

Here is the text of the document adopted by the council at its July meeting in New York City:

AIM's Council for Responsible E-mail (the CRE), as part of its mission to promote the best practices of permission e-mail marketing, has agreed on the following guidelines for e-mail merge/purge. These standards are designed to help the industry move toward consistent practices that will allow marketers more mailing efficiencies and list owners more safeguards to protect the integrity of their lists. Our goal is the eventual incorporation of e-mail merge/purge services into the third-party e-mail list rental


“These guidelines reflect the knowledge and experience of industry leaders from both traditional offline and interactive direct marketing companies,” said Christine Frye of Experian's eMarketing Services and CRE co-chair. “While many principles of the traditional offline practice apply to e-mail merge/purge, the sensitivity to data and the increased exposure that the electronic medium presents have been taken into account.”

The CRE's Guidelines for the Practice of E-Mail Merge/Purge:

1. E-mail lists to be merged may only include e-mail addresses collected in a permission-based environment, except in the case of suppression files. Proof of collection may be required to fulfill the request.

2. The merge/purge provider must have adequate security technology and procedures in place to protect all data from any unauthorized access or use. Proof of such security technologies and procedures may be requested prior to transfer of data.

3. Provider may be required to provide documentation detailing their problem dispute resolution process.

4. Upon request, the merge/purge provider must be able to show documented merge/purge capability, including examples of standard merge/purge reports.

5. A merge/purge provider cannot alter or make available any of the transferred data it receives without explicit written permission from the transferring party.

6. Before initial transfer of data to service provider, all parties should sign an agreement recognizing the proper ownership of data.

Following transfer of data, the data must not be matched, overlaid, enhanced or appended to any other third-party data for any purpose without signed written consent of the participating list owner.

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