Marketing group sets e-mail guidelines

The Direct Marketing Association Inc. (DMA), which represents about 5,000 direct marketers, released a set of guidelines this week for sending online commercial solicitations, better known to consumers as spam.

Although the guidelines provide consumers with the opportunity to opt out of receiving future solicitations from a marketer, as well as the ability to opt out of having personal information shared with third parties, the rules fall short of those recommended by antispam groups.

Spam opponents have long called for an opt-in standard, meaning that consumers would receive a solicitation only if they agreed ahead of time to receive mail from the marketer. Under opt-out policies, consumers can ask to be taken off a marketer's list only after they have received a solicitation.

It's not surprising, however, that the DMA has an opt-out policy, given that marketing is all about contacting potential customers, said Patricia Faley, the DMA's vice president of ethics and consumer affairs. Faley was responsible for putting together the guidelines, which were based on the current practices of the DMA's members.

"These are a minimal standard that are not terribly different from what our members are doing," Faley said, adding that the DMA also included bottom-line ethics statements and best practices in the guidelines.

Among other details, the DMA instructs its members to use "clear and honest and not misleading" subject headers and to provide contact information with each solicitation where recipients can contact the marketer.

While the DMA is aiming to have its members send good-faith solicitations, critics complain that the rules do nothing to reduce the onslaught of spam.

"With these guidelines, we haven't really moved further than where we are; they won't reduce spam, " said Dan Collins, director of U.S. operations at managed content and e-mail filtering company Activis Ltd., which is owned by Articon-Integralis AG.

Collins conceded, however, that the clear subject headers and contact information will make it easier for systems administrators to filter out spam.

And while that's probably not what the DMA had in mind when it set the rules, it's a small reassurance for antispam groups.

For the DMA, however, the rules are an effort to carve out what it considers to be responsible practices. DMA members failing to follow the guidelines face being expelled from the group, Faley said.

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