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Thursday, May 15, 2008


After two weeks of my taking care of things in addition to protecting your name and personal data, the “Do-Not-Mail” issue jumped back into the news on May 5. In the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR site, Anne Landman has done the constituents of “Leave my mailbox alone” a great favor. She examines the subject from all directions, and narrows it down to some alternatives that she feels are appropriate. Of course I could not resist commenting on her piece by espousing my concept that the answer is for consumers to be granted control over their names and private information.

My last blog on the issue was April 3, which started with the whining of junk mailers over the DNM idea, and proceeded to refute some facts and statements made by opponents of a do-not-mail law. There are arguments on both sides. For example, the junk mail industry is concerned that legislation could be passed that stops all junk mail, regardless, which would be bad. There are those who want it, just like another similar issue, smokers, afraid they would be banned from the world. It didn’t happen, and “limiting” junk mail will not sink an industry, nor put the U.S. Postal Service out of business.

Landman reminds us of some pros and cons of this kind of federal law that are worth reviewing. As already stated, the doomsday argument is not valid, and since it would probably be run by the Federal Trade Commission, and if the Do-Not-Call registry is any example, a DNM registry would be equally successful. But Landman reminds us of the pitfalls of a Congress that pretty much does what the lobbyists tell them to do—and I can assure you from my 35 years in the junk mail industry there is a strong lobby—so we could probably expect a law that is pro-business, leaving the consumer at their proverbial spot at the end of the line.

Next, the author brings up one of the real laughables in junk mail; the Direct Marketing Assn.’s “Mail Preference Service,” which is supposed to relieve its roster of most unwanted mail. The key word here is “most,” since it only applies to the DMA membership and those numbers are small compared to the total number of junk mailers, which means even saying most is an exaggeration. On top of that some of the largest junk mailers are not even in the DMA, like the Herrington catalog. I even caught a former colleague recommending to his clients to use the MPS list, reasoning since they weren’t getting much mail, their response would be good. He was right.

Another of Landman’s sore spots is the way corporate America displays its privacy notices in type size that requires bi-focals within bi-focals. We’re told they “might” share your name with other companies, the same wording you see on most every catalog mailed. However, they never come right out and say they will sell you names and personal data for an industry total in the list business of $4 billion a year. And there is always a “gotcha” when they offer freebies which usually means you have to turn over sensitive data to get it. Land refers to this as “address harvesting schemes.”

Her alternatives to a Do-Not-Mail list are: a paid postcard or toll-free number for opting out of a list; the post office could just quit delivering mail to “occupant;” or just adhere to the Rowan v. U.S. Post office law upheld by the Supreme Court that allows consumers to say they don’t want certain mail.

I still like my concept better. Grant consumers control over their names and personal data, and compensate them when it is sold as an incentive to assume
this new responsibility.

Tomorrow: the Junk Mail Revolt.

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