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Email Marketers Urged to Shore Up Security

  |  April 26, 2011   |  Comments

Online Trust Alliance says email addresses should be considered personally identifiable information.

The Online Trust Alliance called on interactive marketers and email service providers (ESPs) to shore up security of customer email addresses.

The alliance's initiative comes in the wake of security breaches at Epsilon, Silverpop, and other interactive marketing companies.

The Online Trust Alliance recommends a security framework for businesses if they maintain or have access to customer email addresses.

Under the framework, email addresses would be considered personally identifiable information (PII); it's a standard that's typically applied to Social Security numbers, a person's date of birth, and other sensitive personal information.

So what do the voluntary guidelines mean for email marketers and other businesses that adopt the alliance's recommendations?

"It changes the way the email marketing industry does business, [handles] data governance and security. It affects clients and their service providers," said Craig Spiezle, executive director at the alliance, which is comprised of marketers, ESPs, data brokers, and ad technology companies.

He warned that marketers should adopt the measures before consumers lose confidence in interactive marketing or before Congress imposes onerous laws.

The alliance also recommended that organizations with access to email records:

- Establish a cross-function security team and designate one person who is accountable for data security.
- Establish a privacy review and audit system for data collection, storage, and use of email addresses.
- Install a network and host-based intrusion detection system.
- Scan outbound marketing, transactional, and other email to detect malicious content.
- Encrypt data files containing PII, customer profiles, or email addresses that are transmitted.

Spiezle said 90 percent of the OTA's recommendations can be implemented immediately and at no cost. One of the more difficult efforts involves determining who gets access to what information, or so-called access management and provisioning, within an organization.

Many measures advanced by the OTA were adopted during the 2000s by financial and health care organizations to fend off the theft of customer information.

Quinn Jalli, Epsilon's VP, deliverability, said the company supports the guidelines.

"Having reviewed those standards before they were released publicly, we find ourselves aligned with the concept of integrating privacy into every stage of product development, and, more importantly, we support the fluid vision of privacy that OTA puts forth - privacy must adjust to the evolving threats and companies must constantly re-evaluate how they treat consumer data, how long data is maintained, and what security safeguards should be put in place given the market realities," Jalli said in a prepared statement in response to a query from ClickZ News.

"The OTA privacy standards exceed what we believe will be the legal requirements, and this is something Epsilon will embody." Jalli didn't provide details on Epsilon's plans for enhancing security.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anna Maria Virzi

Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.

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