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22 Feb. 2015 - 04:00:54

Tech Group Announces Privacy Standards

Getting "spammed" is the price of using e-mail, it seems.

As mounds of unwanted messages pile up in in-boxes, hawking anything from debt reduction to weight reduction, some large e-mail marketing companies want to make sure four-letter words of frustration aren't directed at them or their clients.

The Responsible Electronic Communications Alliance -- a new group of 15 companies that includes DoubleClick, 24/7 Media, Bigfoot Interactive and ClickAction Inc. -- proposed privacy standards Monday that it hopes will cut down on Internet spam.

The group presented the standards at an industry trade show in Boston as sort of a "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for Internet direct advertisers.

The proposal:

Bans advertisers from sending solicitations to consumers without consent.

Allows consumers to remove themselves from mailing lists.

Restricts e-mail to relevant content.

Requires members to state how the information customers provide will be used.

"We think this is going to have a major impact and eliminate a lot of the clutter in people's mailboxes," said lawyer Christopher Wolf, alliance president.

The plan is still in draft form, and a final proposal will not be approved before next year.

Getting Personal?

Companies using e-mail are increasingly trying to be more personalized with the information they send to potential customers, which means privacy becomes even more important, said industry analyst Michele Pelino, director of Internet marketing strategies at Yankee Group in Boston.

Pelino said the alliance's plan has merit because it establishes ways it can be enforced. Violations would be reported for investigation to an independent auditor, and companies could be subject to fines and forfeiture of the seal.

"That's where there seems to be some meat and teeth -- to monitor and really evaluate whether the members are participating effectively," Pelino said.

The proposal is based on guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission. Federal regulators have urged Internet companies to regulate themselves, and the group hopes to get the FTC's endorsement of the plan.

"The prospect of government regulation was one important impetus for RECA, because I think the industry would prefer responsible self-regulation," said lawyer Ross Klenoff, who represents the alliance and helped draft the proposal.

Some companies also have found it difficult to raise the bar on their own and decided to work together, Klenoff said.

"You run into a difficult situation where you try to raise the bar on privacy standards, and marketers threaten to walk and go with another company," he said.

The proposal won't stop unwanted e-mail, because there will be some companies that won't participate or abide by any other standards, Klenoff said.

"You can come up with a great solution, but if not all companies are part of the solution then you haven't completely won the battle," he said.

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