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Will CAN-SPAM be revisited?

 I recently moderated a panel discussion at the September Online Media, Marketing and Advertisement (OMMA) conference that took on the thorny issue of best practices for the online lead generation industry — or lack thereof, to be more accurate. The panelists discussed the current scrutiny plaguing the industry regarding questionable practices by some online lead generation providers, including the third party sharing of consumer data and questionable use of incentives to drive the registration process. Such practices mean more consumers are getting bombarded by unsolicited and irrelevant e-mail.


Len Gordon, acting assistant regional director of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who also participated in the panel, stated that Congress and the FTC are under increasing consumer pressure to stop the sharing of consumer data and personal data and to strengthen the federal CAN-SPAM law. The message is clear: The online lead generation industry needs to quickly take a strong and unified stand to self-regulate, or stricter federal laws will try to do it for us.


The Email and Sender Provider Coalition (ESPC), whose industry members have focused their energies on collectively addressing the issues of spam and e-mail deliverability, has been effective in defining and establishing best practices for e-mail marketers. The Coalition’s e-mail marketing pledge and e-mail authentication position statement have set the bar for e-mail etiquette with marketers and lead generation providers, benefiting the industry and consumers.  


The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) has been making headlines lately for its data transfer policies, calling for providers to be on board by April 1, 2008. Some news headlines have characterized these steps as “throwing down the gauntlet.” While the IAB’s work offers useful guidelines that establish repeatable processes between online lead generators and their clients, these processes do not pass muster as best practices. They fail to address the main issues in e-mail marketing today — third-party sharing of consumer data, misleading promotions and forced registration — practices that alienate consumers and damage business reputations.


It is time that the IAB, The Online Lead Generation Association (OLGA), and other industry leaders step up and together call for standards to address the real problems facing the industry. Top ‘best practices’ include:


—Not sharing consumer data with any third parties without the consumer’s explicit permission. Burying in a privacy statement that you may share a consumer’s data with “marketing partners” is not an acceptable practice. Consumers have no idea what this really means, and they have no way of stopping the continued use of the data.

—Clearly declaring consumer privacy policies front and center, in simple language, at the start of the registration process.

—Using clear language at the beginning of the registration process to describe the terms and rewards for incentive-based lead generation campaigns.


If we, as an industry, are to avoid the heavy hand of legislators and a re-examination of CAN-SPAM, we must act now to adhere to established best practices that protect consumer rights while strengthening our business value for marketers and advertisers. I challenge all online lead generation providers to support the best practices efforts of OLGA and the IAB. More importantly, I urge the industry to take action now to self-regulate our actions. If we fail to govern our actions as an industry, we will find Government more than willing to step in.


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