DMA Plans Spam Sting

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) plans to link up with the federal law enforcement to hunt down spammers breaking the law.

Under the plan, the DMA would investigate and otherwise support law enforcement authorities in identifying and gathering information on spammers breaking current spam laws. The group sent out a letter to members earlier this month seeking financial contributions to the effort.

The trade group confirmed the gestation of the plan, known as Operation Slam Spam. The New York Times first reported its existence last week.

Operation Slam Spam, which the DMA said could be up and running within a month, would lend federal law enforcement the expertise of direct marketers, who would provide training to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department, and state and local law enforcement.

“We see spam as a complex problem that needs a complex solution,” said Louis Mastria, a spokesman for the DMA. “We would hope to pull together the right technologists and technology companies to help law enforcement track down the spammers.”

The move comes as the DMA has come under withering criticism from some quarters in the email marketing community over its stance in the spam debate. Earlier this month, the DMA indefinitely shelved the release of an email best practices document to be issued by its AIM subsidiary, after earlier removing the definition of spam.

Unlike many in the email marketing industry, the DMA does not ascribe to the notion that spam as any unsolicited commercial bulk email, instead defining it as email sent fraudulently. The DMA says its stance is meant to protect the broad interests of its 4,700 members.

This stance has angered some email marketers, such as Rapp Digital Vice President Ian Oxman, who quit AIM when the best practices were quashed. Michael Mayor, chief executive of email marketing firm NetCreations, said Operation Slam Spam seemed to be a public relations strategy, rather than a real strategy for dealing with what the DMA itself describes in its recruitment letter as a “growing blight.”

“It sounds like they’re developing a hired-gun approach, focusing on fraud and deceptive email, which in my view is not the cause of spam,” he said. “Spam is unsolicited email and [the DMA] should be focused on permission.”

Mayor, who is chairman of the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) email committee, said his email group was considering releasing the best practices document as an IAB initiative.

Mastria said Operation Slam Spam was part of the DMA’s strategy of bolstering industry self-regulatory efforts in an attempt to head off the need for restrictive federal legislation and keep email marketing thriving. The group does favor legislation, but only if it is confined to fraudulently sent marketing messages. Congress is set to debate a number of spam bills this fall.

Mastria said the details of Operation Slam Spam were still to be worked out, but the DMA would put up the bulk of the money required. Unlike cases developed by ISPs like EarthLink and AOL, Mastria said Operation Slam Spam would be more than “one-off efforts.”

“This is something that’s going to happen day in day out, 365 days a year, 24/7,” he said.

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