DMA: Members must keep privacy promise

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After taking action against members that don't comply with its Privacy Promise to American Consumers-including eight members recommended for expulsion by the group's ethics committee-the Direct Marketing Association is working to make sure its 4,000-plus members keep their promise.

Several of the eight were business-to-business marketers and therefore not required to adhere to the policy. Concerning those remaining, the DMA board voted in October to expel Sportsman's Market for refusal to comply; another member, Columbia University's Graduate School of Business, faces expulsion Nov. 30. The DMA did not take action against a handful of members that promised to certify compliance with the policy after their computer systems are tested in the new year.

"Most of them frankly, once they realized what was going on and the CEOs became aware of it, signed the privacy promise," said the group's CEO Robert Weintzen. "Some of them went to the wire."

The policy, which went into effect July 1, requires DMA member companies that market directly to consumers to: Notify consumers about contact data transfer practices, give consumers the opportunity to opt out of marketing processes, maintain an in-house suppression system to honor name-removal requests and use the DMA's name removal services for mail, telephone and as of Jan. 10, e-mail.

"I was delighted that we had such support," Mr. Weintzen said. "But obviously we didn't get everybody into the fold."

One that clearly wasn't is cataloger Sportsman's Market, which allowed its membership to lapse Sept. 30 rather than signify compliance with the policy, according to Sportsman's Senior VP Bill Anderson.

The 37-year-old company immediately honors customers' requests to be taken of the catalog mailing lists or not to have their information sold to other marketers, he said.


"We really don't see eye to eye with the DMA on this," Mr. Anderson said. "We think that it's going a little bit beyond what a trade association ought to do in asking people to sign things."

The group's Committee on Ethical Business Practice, which recommended the expulsions, will continue to review cases reported by members or consumers about policy violations. Full-time employees will handle reviews using a variety of methods, including mystery shoppers and checks of the DMA's mail and phone preference files, Mr. Weintzen said.

"We're not making a statement about privacy practices [of other companies], we're simply stating that they have not certified their compliance."

But Jason Catlett, president of consumers group Junkbusters, believes the DMA's policy doesn't provide much consumer protection. "The DMA is essentially aiming to let people opt out [of receiving direct marketing]," he said. "The debate in Washington now has moved way past that and is moving to shouldn't everything be opt-in."

Mr. Weintzen maintains the policy gives more than lip service to public and government concerns about privacy. "It has been a tough project to do, but [the results] make me think it was worth it," he said. "There were businesses that weren't following these principles that had to make adjustments in the way they were operating."

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