Ram Avrahami 1001 N. Randolph St. #110 Arlington, VA 22201 Tel: (703) 908-9125 Fax: (703) 908-0186 firstname.lastname@example.org 24 June 1996 Mr. Jonah Gitlitz President Direct Marketing Association 1120 Avenue of the Americas New York, NY 10036-3603Dear Mr. Gitlitz,
As you are probably aware, I have been involved in a legal litigation with US News & World Report regarding their unauthorized use of my name as part of their mailing list. While the Arlington County Circuit Court has just ruled in favor of US News, curiously by adopting its position verbatim without comment, most of the questions that the case pointed to still remain unclear. Who owns personal information, how can it be utilized in a way that is acceptable and desirable by all sides and how to continue from here are the prominent ones.
My case does not mention direct marketing, nor am I opposed to it. But the fact that it received national publicity and resonated with many people speaks for itself. There is a fundamental distrust among many consumers in the practices of the direct marketing industry, and unauthorized trading in names is a major contributor to this feeling. The latest poll conducted by Direct magazine shows the same attitude.
Last November, during an open panel discussion, I told DMA Counsel that the DMA should treat my case not as a problem but as a proposed solution to how better practices could be structured. Just recently, DM News called the industry to proactively issue new guidelines before legislators take that action. Initiatives in several states and in the federal level indicate that if the DMA will not move on this issue, someone else will.
Having looked at the Court's decision, I have little doubt that there is not only ample grounds for appeal, but that its chances are good. I have no doubt that at the end people will own their personal information. But the industry has now the time to prepare itself for such outcome.
I would like to offer constructive suggestions to how personal information can and can be used in the direct marketing industry in a positive way. Assuming personal information belongs to individuals, its commercial trading can only take place with the explicit permission of its owners, practically implying opt-in. The following four guidelines will make a smooth transition to such an opt-in protocol:
1) The Direct Marketing Association will explicitly and publicly endorse opt-in. This act will prevent speculations and misunderstanding among consumers and companies and provide clear leadership of the DMA in building a new relationship between them.
2) The DMA will provide a central repository for people who are happy with the current situation and do not want to be bothered with multiple requests for the use of their name. These people could simply contact the DMA and give it one general permission to exchange their names. The DMA would then disseminate such permissions among its members in a centralized and efficient way.
3) Soliciting companies would explicitly inform consumers who they got their names from. This is both a matter of courtesy and a simple way to oversee the proper use of the opt-in protocol. In addition, once permission for such solicitation was given, the mentioning of the source will not annoy the consumer but provide a personable connection with him or her.
4) List companies would contact all the consumers on their lists, explain the benefit of being on the lists, and ask for explicit permission to retain their names there. While this may initially seem an unnecessary burden, the new relationship that will be built between the list companies and the consumers who opted to stay on their lists will overcome the initial cost of establishing it. As Polk's Buyer's Choice shows, consumers do opt-in when given the chance.
My belief is that in the electronic age direct marketing can be stronger and more prominent than its role in the traditional world. Yet to do so, consumers need to believe that the industry works on their behalf and not enforced on them. I hope that this letter will help in building a new relationship between consumers and direct marketing companies, that is founded on openness and trust and will therefore be stronger and better to all sides in the long term. I appreciate your attention in advance. Please let me know if I can assist you further on this issue.
CC: Ms. Christine Varney, Commissioner, FTC
Mr. Marc Rotenberg, Director, EPIC