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DMA Releases E-Mail Guidelines, Calls Them Minimum Standard

The Direct Marketing Association is expected to release guidelines today governing its members' use of e-mail marketing. As first reported in DM News in November, the guidelines — dubbed “Commercial Solicitations Online Guidelines” — call for a member's expulsion for noncompliance.

The e-mail guidelines have been in the works for about a year. They are similar to the DMA's Privacy Promise, which was implemented in 1999.

Under the new guidelines, which the DMA called a minimum standard for acceptable e-mail marketing practice, marketers can send commercial solicitations only to their own customers or to individuals who consented to receive e-mail from the marketer. If, after given the opportunity to opt out of further communications, the consumer decides not to do so, the marketer can contact them.

The guidelines also allow marketers to send e-mail after “having received assurance from a third-party list provider” that the names have provided consent to be contacted, or have chosen not to opt out.

The DMA's guidelines also call for marketers to furnish a link or a notice that consumers can request to be taken off the marketer's list and request that the marketer not rent, sell or exchange their e-mail address for e-mail marketing. These requests should be honored in a timely manner, the DMA said.

“This is a very strong statement that the board is making,” said Patricia Faley, the DMA's vice president of ethics and consumer affairs. “What we've had before is what we call guidance. We put a stake in the ground four or five years ago.”

Faley said that the new guidelines are only the minimal acceptable standards the DMA will allow and that the organization plans to issue “best practices” soon. She also said the organization will provide members with examples of how to implement the guidelines, if necessary.

The guidelines also call for marketers to process third-party commercial e-mail lists through the association's E-MPS online e-Mail Preference Service suppression file. They also call for marketers to fully disclose their identities in e-mail and to include a street address in the message or to provide a link to their address on a Web site.

Some, however, don't think the organization is doing enough to police e-mail marketing.

Anne Mitchell, director of public and legal affairs for anti-spam group Mail Abuse Prevention System LLC, characterized the DMA's new guidelines as “lip service.” She said the DMA should encourage its members to take advantage of services like MAPS's new Non-confirming Mailing List.

The NML, which MAPS introduced last month, is a database of Internet protocol addresses that “have demonstrated to be the sources” of mailing lists that do not fully verify the e-mail addresses on the lists they own. The NML essentially is a list of IP addresses that do not use fully verified opt-in methods to sign up people for e-mail.

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