AIM Resolutions Don't Go Far Enough For Some Council Members

While the six resolutions passed this week by the Association for Interactive Media’s Council for Responsible E-Mail were generally deemed an important first step toward resolving contentious political issues between two AIM factions, they didn’t go far enough for some.

Council member Rosalind Resnick, president of e-mail list company NetCreations Inc., New York, said she made a last-minute proposal at the council’s meeting that the resolutions include an endorsement of opt-in only, third-party e-mail lists – where e-mail is sent only to people who have explicitly requested it. But AIM, a subsidiary of the Direct Marketing Association, tabled the proposal. The meeting was held at the DMA’s conference in Seattle.

“I was really disappointed by the platform AIM adopted,” Resnick said. “I think it was a good first step, but AIM and the DMA need to go a lot further if they want to protect consumers and keep privacy advocates at bay.”

Not everyone agreed with Resnick’s assessment.

“You can’t do everything in one fell swoop,” said council member Jay Schwedelson, corporate vice president at Internet ad placement firm WebConnect, Boca Raton, FL. “The resolutions that have been passed are important and they will make a difference.”

For example, they will help rid the Internet of flagrant spammers such as those that offer CD-ROMs containing millions of e-mail addresses, said Schwedelson. “We’ll be able to work out semantics later on, but at least now we’ll be able to get rid of the people who are giving us a bad name.”

In any case, the resolutions come at an important time. Several e-mail companies recently considered breaking from AIM to form their own group because of the DMA’s refusal to speek against opt-out e-mail marketing – where consumers must ask to be removed from lists – but reportedly decided against it because of the administrative burden such an undertaking would entail.

Generally, the council’s factions are split into two groups:

• Internet-only companies that want AIM to endorse opt-in e-mail and that fear regulators may step in if the group fails to do so.

• Companies with roots in postal direct marketing that fear endorsing opt-in e-mail marketing and officially opposing opt-out e-mail will close off unseen opportunities before the market has matured, and that fear it may set a precedent which threatens traditional offline opt-out marketing practices as well.

The council’s six resolutions are considered important because for the first time they contain language on which the two groups have agreed. For example, the group has agreed on definitions of “harvest” and “prior business or personal relationship.”

“Everyone came to the table with pet issues but knowing we had to take a first step,” said AIM executive director Ben Isaacson. “We had to get these issues off the table so we could get to the nitty-gritty.”

Under the resolutions, the CRE – which represents about 50 companies – agreed that:

• Marketers must not falsify the sender’s domain name or use a non-responsive IP address without implied permission from the recipient or transferred permission from the marketer.

• Marketers must not purposely falsify the content of the subject line or mislead readers from the content of the e-mail message.

• All bulk e-mail marketing messages must include an option for the recipient to unsubscribe (be removed from the list) from receiving future messages from that sender, list owner or list manager.

• Marketers must inform the respondent at the time of online collection of the e-mail addresses for what marketing purposes the respondent’s e-mail address will be used.

• Marketers must not harvest e-mail addresses with the intent to send bulk, unsolicited commercial e-mail without consumers’ knowledge or consent. (Harvest is defined as compiling or stealing e-mail addresses through anonymous collection procedures such as via a Web spider, through chat rooms or other publicly displayed areas listing personal or business e-mail addresses.)

• It opposes sending bulk unsolicited commercial e-mail to an e-mail address without a prior business or personal relationship. (Business or personal relationship is defined as any previous recipient-initiated correspondence, transaction activity, customer service activity, third-party permission use or proven offline contact.)

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