The DMA Is Clueless

The Direct Marketing Association has never understood the spam issue.

It’s not their position that rankles, but the thinking behind it. The DMA is thinking in terms of law. They don’t want laws that might create a liability for their members. It’s OK to hate Sanford Wallace, but a rule that Microsoft might violate won’t fly.

This is important because over the last few years, the DMA has been on an acquisition spree. It now runs the Association for Interactive Media, so if you’re a major player in this business, they’re speaking for you.

The problem with spam isn’t the law. The problem with spam is that it’s Clueless. It wastes bandwidth and angers people. More to the point, I define what’s spam in my emailbox – senders don’t.

If I say Microsoft, its Expedia unit, and CDNOW have spammed me, they have spammed me. (All these worthies currently have emails in my personal spam folder.) I won’t do business with them (if I can help it) and I won’t think well of them. Every note that comes into my box and I define as spam burns the sender’s goodwill. My guess is you feel the same way.

With that as background, let’s visit the news.admin.net-abuse.email newsgroup. One week ago, Nick Nicholas posted to this newsgroup, saying the DMA had reneged on agreements made at a spam summit last December. Its current position on the issue is unacceptable, he wrote.

Particularly objectionable to the anti-spam community was the idea that ISPs should not be allowed to opt-out all their users or the domains they control, from unsolicited commercial email (UCE) or unsolicited bulk email (UBE).

Inside of six days, over 150 notes had been posted in the thread following Nicholas’ note. Legislation is the only answer, said some. Let’s get a list of all DMA members and boycott them, suggested others. How about creating a “white list” of those who accept anti-spam guidelines, with all other messages automatically bounced, came others?

Wherever this heads, in a legal sense, the DMA is prepared to fight, and is likely to win. As Nicholas wrote in a later note on the thread, “It’s *deceptive* spam that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is concerned about.” The DMA will claim that UCE that isn’t deceptive isn’t spam, and claim the FTC agrees, he argued.

The same hopelessness came over the group when other solutions were proposed, like putting DMA members on the MAPS (Mail Abuse Prevention System) RBL (Realtime Blackhole List).

Wouldn’t they sue, and break the anti-spam community with their lawyers? Yes, they might, and they might go after MAPS leaders personally, it was argued. (Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.)

The discussion is really sad, and beside the point. The DMA will win the battle but lose the war. The goal is not to get the email into the inbox but to get the message of the email followed. By arguing the law against activists and regulators, rather than the practical questions against DMA members and prospective members, the DMA shows they still don’t have a Clue.

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