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The Direct Marketing Association is pushing marketers to quickly adopt their own standards for protecting consumer privacy in order to fend off mounting pressure for government regulation.

DMA's "Privacy Action Now" initiative is aimed at convincing members that consumer fears about privacy protection could damage the industry if they're not addressed.

The current attention to privacy was triggered by controversy over the availability of information on the Internet. Regulations, however, could extend far wider limiting the kind of information the government discloses, the kind of information marketers collect and the kind of information that marketers could sell.

"It's a situation where we are trying to show privacy advocates and legislators that the direct marketing industry is a responsible citizen," said Jerry Cerasale, DMA's senior VP-government affairs. "But we also feel our customers have to feel comfortable. If they start to think that direct marketers are misusing information, they will have doubts" about purchases.


The danger to direct marketers was driven home last week at the DMA's government affairs conference in Washington. Speakers from Federal Trade Commission Chairman Robert Pitofsky to congressmen warned that marketers may have less than a month to demonstrate they are creating a policy on privacy, or risk having one imposed by the government. Marketers are also facing pressure to create standards on Internet privacy regarding children, as well as what content can be included in Web sites targeting kids.

The deadline is the date of FTC hearings, which will deal with marketers collecting data on consumers; what kind of information can be solicited from children on the Internet; and unsolicited marketing e-mail.

Mr. Pitofsky, who has urged the industry to develop voluntary standards and better blocking technology as alternatives to government regulation, told the direct marketers that he believes individual industries can promote standards without running afoul of antitrust laws-if by no other means than establishing ethics codes and referring violations to his agency.

"I have heard from a number of industry people that they are afraid of antitrust rules, that this could be characterized as a boycott," Mr. Pitofsky said. "If you just set up the guidelines and don't introduce enforcement, you can't create an antitrust problem."


U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), ranking Democratic member of the House telecommunications subcommittee, said he isn't waiting for a voluntary solution and is circulating legislation to require some standards.

"Electronic commerce will only succeed in our digital domain if there is trust and security and privacy and an enforceable code of electronic ethics," he said.

Rep. Markey said his Privacy Bill of Rights will ask the FTC and the Federal Communications Commission to look at requiring marketers on the Internet to tell consumers what information they are collecting, give consumers the right to say no and force Internet service providers to provide blocking software on indecent fare.

Jerry Berman, executive director of the Center for Democracy & Technology, said his group will demonstrate some technological solutions at the FTC hearing next month.

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