E-Mail Marketers: Do-Not-E-Mail List Would Fail

Since its launch last Friday, consumers have flooded the government’s Web site to register for its do-not-call list, designed to free people from the unwanted hassles of telemarketers calling during dinner.

The success has led some to wonder if the next step in the war on spam will be a do-not-e-mail list, such as the one proposed in Sen. Charles Schumer’s anti-spam legislation. But e-mail marketers, and even the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) itself, have doubts that such an e-mail list would work

“Sheer folly,” said Louis Mastria, a spokesman for the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). “Sen. Schumer knows my feelings on this.”

Schumer called for the FTC to create a database for people to register their addresses (and their children’s) to not receive spam. The FTC would hire a third-party vendor to operate the database. Violators would be liable to both criminal prosecution as well as civil penalties brought by those spammed.

Following up on Schumer’s proposal, the leading anti-spam bill, the CAN-SPAM Act, added a provision that would allow the FTC — but not require it — to set up a do-not-e-mail list. Such a list would allow Internet service providers to sign up their entire domains, potentially making the database less unruly.

There seems to be public support for such a system. According to a survey released yesterday by Insight Express, 80 percent of those that signed up for the do-not-call list would sign up for a similar list devoted to unsolicited e-mail.

The Committee Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail is wary about embracing an approach to fighting spam that requires consumer action. However, John Mozena, the 19,000-member group’s co-founder and vice president, said the inclusion of domain-wide registration could make such a list workable as well as worthwhile.

“We do believe it is workable,” he said. “It’s going to be big, complex; it’s going to require some intelligent design, some intelligent rulemaking by the FTC to make it work.”

Mozena said the keys to making such a database work are domain-wide registration and the right of private action, in order to inflict maximum harm on spammers.

The DMA currently maintains its own opt-in database of customers who do not wish to receive e-mail solicitation from its members. So far, over a million customers have signed up, according to Mastria. Violators could be thrown out of the DMA.

Mastria ridiculed the notion that a federal do-not-e-mail list, with the right of private action against violators, would affect the real transgressors — spammers using fraudulent means to send unsolicited bulk e-mail — as much as other legislative proposals.

“Spammers ain’t going to use it,” he said. “Where is the efficacy of this proposal? I know it sounds great, I know it’s well intentioned, but I can’t imagine it working.”

The FTC itself has been cool to the idea. Mozelle Thompson, an FTC commissioner, recently told IAR that “the difference is huge” between the do-not-call list and one to fight spam.

“For the small guys, processing and using a do-not-e-mail list has several logistical and technical issues that make it difficult,” said Michael Della Penna, Bigfoot Interactive’s chief marketing officer. “It’s going to be a logistical and technical headache for a lot of folks.”

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