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DMA Releases E-Mail Guidelines

Amid increasing industry and regulatory action concerning spam and online privacy, the New York-based Direct Marketing Association weighs in, taking the wraps off its own guidelines for commercial e-mail marketing.

Not surprisingly, the industry association's guidelines mandate only "opt-out" communications -- e-mail that requires mailing list recipients to ask for removal -- rather than the more stringent "opt-in" or "double opt-in" standards, which are favored by many consumer and privacy advocates.

But the guidelines do spell out several lesser, but still significant, points. In each e-mail, marketers must provide information for recipients on how to opt out of receiving future mailings, and they also must allow consumers to halt the sale, exchange or rental of their addresses. Marketers must also disclose and provide opt-out information for sold, rented or exchanged consumer information.

Commercial e-mails must disclose the marketer's identity, and the subject line should be "clear, honest, and not misleading." The e-mail also should provide offline contact information (including a street address) for consumer inquiries, either within the message body, or via a link to the marketer's Web site.

Marketers also must "scrub" rented or purchased e-mail lists using the DMA's e-Mail Preference Service suppression file -- a "do not call" database for e-mail marketers.

Similarly, Web marketers also must list their information practices prominently on their Web sites, describe the types of personally identifiable information collected and how it's used, and give consumers a way to opt out of data collection.

Additionally, they must publicly state that they adhere to the DMA's practices (though third-party verification is optional).

The DMA said the guidelines, violation of which could result in expulsion from the association, represent the group's continuing efforts to promote higher ethical standards among marketers, it said.

"The guidelines unveiled today demonstrate that industry self-regulation is working," said DMA president and chief executive H. Robert Wientzen. "The guidelines are fair to consumers and marketers alike."

Added Ben Isaacson, executive director of the DMA's subsidiary Association for Interactive Marketing: "Marketers have discovered that e-mail is one of the greatest direct marketing mediums ever created, and these guidelines will ensure the continued success for DMA and AIM members."

But privacy advocates are less likely to be thrilled about the development, especially considering more recent efforts by groups like Mail Abuse Prevention Systems, and a joint program by TRUSTe and ePrivacy Group.

In January, MAPS unveiled a database to which consumers could nominate e-mail marketers that "haven't asked for permission" -- that is, that don't follow a double opt-in policy. Last week, TRUSTe and ePrivacy group also debuted a system under which marketers' e-mail would be cryptographically verified as coming from a sender who has a previous business relationship with the recipient -- such as a sale. Additionally, rented or purchased lists are excluded from the program, which could ultimately include some sort of ISP-level filtering mechanism.

But the DMA said that its guidelines represent a "minimum standard" for the industry, and also a major step forward in terms of codified industry self-regulatory practices.

"The requirement to include a physical address is a unique feature of the guidelines," said Patricia Faley, who is vice president for ethics and consumer affairs for the DMA. "Responsible marketers want to build trust with their customers and prospective consumers."