Under fed scrutiny, e-mail services set guides

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In a rare example of competing companies working together to better the marketplace, 16 leading e-mail services companies joined forces last month to work toward creating industrywide standards regarding e-messaging and e-commerce.

The Responsible Electronic Communication Alliance was formed amid a heightening e-privacy debate -- peppered with government rulings and anti-spam lawsuits -- to establish and adopt guidelines to limit spam and protect consumer privacy.

At September's net.marketing conference in Boston, RECA asked marketers and e-mail companies to employ strict opt-in policies and display privacy policies on their Web pages. RECA's proposed guidelines, based on the "fair information practices principles" endorsed by the Federal Trade Commission in July, permit its members to send e-mail messages only to those consumers who give permission to receive marketing-related e-mails.

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"It's better to adopt a standard as an industry group than to have government regulators do it," says RECA President Christopher Wolf, an Internet attorney.

The group hopes to establish the guidelines early next year as industry standards, accompanied by a RECA seal of approval for all companies that accept and abide by the policies.

The group's founding members, including 24/7 Media, American List Council, Bigfoot Interactive, DoubleClick, Netcentives, and Yesmail.com, "recognize they're all in the same boat in terms of the need to limit spam and protect consumer privacy," Mr. Wolf says.

"They understand that nobody will read marketing e-mail if they're deluged with irrelevant mail," he adds.

"It's up to the industries to police themselves, and if they don't, shame on them," says Jim Hoffman, CEO of Bigfoot Interactive.

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