E-Mail Newsmaker: NAI's Hughes Sees Parallels in Privacy, Spam Debates

Trevor Hughes is no stranger to clashing consumer and marketing interests, which is why he is up to his neck in the e-mail service providers' side of the spam debate.

Earlier this year, Hughes spearheaded the Network Advertising Initiative E-mail Service Provider Coalition to represent service providers' interests by preserving e-mail as a marketing medium while helping solve the spam problem.

Hughes, executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative, claims his participation in the privacy debates uniquely qualifies him for his new role.

As director of privacy at CMGI's ad network, Engage Technologies Inc., he was one of the country's early privacy professionals before forming the NAI three years ago.

After a stint as corporate legal counsel with disability insurer Unum, Hughes said, he began his job at Engage with a firm belief in the need for restrictions in the trade of information between businesses.

Two years later after witnessing and taking part in countless privacy debates, he came away with a different perspective.

“I started at a place where my beliefs were that restrictions were necessary. I have ended up at a place where I see the value to society of that information exchange,” he said. “The amazing thing about direct marketing today is that it works as well as it does. I'm a big-time soccer player. I get a lot of soccer catalogs. And you know what? That's great.”

Hughes added that he doesn't get many fly-fishing or mountain-climbing catalogs because “there is an intelligence in the marketplace” associated with his past purchase information.

The NAI, he said, was formed at the Federal Trade Commission's urging three years ago to respond to privacy issues involving online advertising. This was when DoubleClick was under fire for wanting to place cookies on people's computers, track them across the Web and match that data to their offline profiles in DoubleClick's Abacus division database.

The NAI developed a self-regulatory proposal concerning online profiling, which the FTC applauded in a statement in July 2000. The NAI's members included 24/7 Media, Engage, MatchLogic and DoubleClick.

The NAI Web site at NetworkAdvertising.org still has an opt-out form for people who don't want DoubleClick placing cookies on their hard drives.

“The reason I get energized about issues like this is I see companies struggling to do the right thing but still getting hurt in the marketplace,” said Hughes, a Canadian who grew up near Toronto. “That was the case with the online advertising debate three years ago, and that's the case today with e-mail as a communications vehicle being blacklisted and filtered and disrupted.”

Today, e-mail service providers are getting caught in the spam-war crossfire, and their businesses are threatened, he said.

“Having the experience of being on the front lines of the privacy debates in heated moments really gave me some insight into the process and how things move, and how to work issues through,” said Hughes, who is based in York, ME.

One of his goals is to help state and federal legislators understand that there are legitimate businesses delivering millions — if not billions — of messages every week that are requested.

“The recognition I came to in this space was that e-mail service providers did not have a voice in the legislation that was being developed,” Hughes said, “and the filtering and blacklisting that was occurring in the marketplace was being done without e-mail service providers being understood.”

Hughes also is executive director for the International Association of Privacy Officers. He has a bachelor of arts in political science from the University of Massachusetts. His law degree is from the University of Maine School of Law.

The NAI E-mail Service Provider Coalition claims to represent 250,000 customers. Coalition members include Aptimus, Avenue A, BlueHornet Networks, Britemoon, CheetahMail, ClickAction, Digital Impact, DoubleClick, eDialogue, Eversave, ExactTarget, Experian, GotMarketing, iMakeNews, MindShare Design, Roving Software, Topica and Virtumundo.

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