DMA to Internet:

Table of Contents:


On January 10, 2000, the DMA launched its solution to the problem of unsolicited broadcast e-mail: an opt-out list in which consumers will be allowed to state their preference not to receive UBE and which DMA members will be asked to honor. Although the DMA touts its new list as a benefit to consumers, the DMA's approach is profoundly hostile to consumers as well as the Internet infrastructure.

The DMA does not intend to allow ISPs to control the use of their own private property, and the DMA is refusing to allow ISPs to opt-out all of its customers from DMA promotional mailings. Even though the DMA intends for ISPs and their customers to absorb the costs of UBE, the DMA marketing plan seeks ISP support for a plan which harms them for the benefit of direct marketers.

We must make certain that the DMA does not succeed in gaining support for its bogus list which was conceived in fraud. If you are an ISP owner or manager, please read the background information below so you will be prepared when the DMA seeks your endorsement. If you are customer of an ISP, please let your ISP know about this web page and encourage them to withhold support for the DMA's bogus list which will only ensure the distribution of more UBE.


The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) is a leading proponent of unsolicited broadcast e-mail ("UBE" or "spam") as an advertising method. With the power of its generous campaign contributions, the DMA has succeeded in getting sweetheart legislation introduced in Congress and thwarting the progress of any meaningful anti-abuse legislation at either the federal or state level.

Everything changed, however, when Rodney Joffe and American Computer Group (ACG) launched SAFEeps, the first and only global opt-out service to receive any support from members of the Internet community.

The notion of a global opt-out list was itself controversial, and many refused to support SAFEeps for this reason. All previous attempts at developing global opt-out lists had proven to be ineffective in reducing e-mail abuse. Moreover, the notion of an opt-out list rested on a presumption that, rather than seeking permission to use the resources of its targets, advertisers could direct as much promotional material as they wanted to mailboxes of their choice until told to stop.

Almost all e-mailbox owners reject this idea, and the experts are in agreement that such a scheme would have a catastrophic impact on the e-mail delivery system and e-commerce.

Nevertheless, SAFEeps was able to gather support due to several factors making it different from previous proposals:

  • ISPs, corporations, educational institutions and other organizations would be able to pre-emptively opt-out all of their users;
  • SAFEeps, with broad backing by the Internet community and direct marketers, actually stood some chance of success of significantly reducing spam levels;
  • Rodney, with his close ties to both the DMA and the direct marketing industry and the Internet and anti-spam communities, could gain the trust of both groups and thus establish the critical mass necessary to make a global opt-out list successful.
Despite grave misgivings, many members of the Internet community who had been adamantly opposed to opt-out lists decided to support SAFEeps in the spirit of cooperation and compromise. SAFEeps was the last best hope to make a global opt-out list work. If it failed, it would settle permanently the issue of the viability of opt-out lists. If it succeeded, owners of private property would be able to control the use of their resources as they saw fit, and individuals could still receive all of the promotional materials in which they were interested. SAFEeps represented a fair and effective balance of the interests of marketers, consumers and the owners of network equipment.

SAFEeps was an immediate hit. Within a week of its introduction, more than 40 million e-mail addresses were shielded by SAFEeps, with Hotmail and America OnLine among the first to register.

Suddenly, however, the DMA was ready to talk after ignoring the Internet community for years. Its leadership was frightened by the success of SAFEeps, as well as their recent failure to get S. 1618 passed by the House. DMA representatives approached Rodney and asked him to put together a small group of experts on e-mail abuse.

Meeting with the DMA and Aftermath

This meeting took place at DMA headquarters in Washington DC on 12/5/98. One of the participants reported on the meeting in a newsgroup article (available here), and a press release was also issued. The meeting was covered not only by online news sources such as Wired News, C|Net and ZDnet, but by The New York Times as well.

Even though Rodney succeeded in putting together SAFEeps in less than two months, the DMA took more than a year to develop a similar but much less capable system. Rodney had offered to license SAFEeps to the DMA for $1, but the DMA elected to hire its own contractor for its SAFEeps alternative, e-MPS.

The reasons for the DMA's rejection of Rodney's generous offer became clear when the features of the DMA's alternative to SAFEeps were finally unveiled, and it became obvious that the DMA had been dealing in bad faith all along. The length of time was merely a stalling tactic as the DMA developed a system lacking any of the benefits of SAFEeps and including all of the negatives of previous global opt-out lists.

The DMA's e-MPS represents a complete abandonment of the agreements made by the DMA leadership a year previously. Another participant in the 1998 meeting reported in a newsgroup article (available here) about how the DMA had reneged on every substantive agreement to which it had committed.

The DMA leadership had agreed to honor the rules of the forum pertaining to unsolicited bulk e-mail, and to promote the use of opt-in marketing practices by its members. But in his 10/25/99 keynote address at the DMA's 82nd Annual Conference and Exhibition, Bob Wientzen didn't even mention opt-in except to denounce it:

[W]e also feel that most of those who push for an opt-in-only regime have very little understanding of the incredibly negative impact it would have on the future use of e-mail as a marketing tool.

The DMA also reneged on its promise to support a global opt-out list which would include the right of ISPs and other domains to pre-emptively opt-out all of its users. Jerry Cerasale made it clear in his 11/3/99 testimony to the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications, Trade and Consumer Protection that only individuals would be permitted to opt-out of promotional mailings by the DMA's e-MPS.

More DMA Lies and Backpedaling

After the DMA's duplicity was exposed, it was reported in a well-researched Salon article. The DMA's Vice President of Ethics and Consumer Affairs, Pat Faley, who was present at the meeting, asserts that the DMA's e-MPS fulfilled the commitments it had made at the summit. Faley also deprecated the significance of the meeting as nothing more than an exchange of positions rather than an attempt to hammer out a workable compromise which was the stated objective of the summit.

Faley's lies and knowing advocacy of theft perfectly illustrate DMA "ethics" and its commitment to the consumer interest.

DMA Denies Private Property Rights of ISPs

MAPS has obtained a copy of the DMA's marketing plan for its bogus e-MPS and makes it available for public review here. Note that the DMA explicitly states that ISPs will not be permitted to opt out its customers, and all other domains must first obtain the DMA's permission before opting out. Domain opt-out evidently will not be available when e-MPS is launched in January, nor does the DMA offer any information on how long Internet users will be required to wait before domain opt-out is implemented.

A key part of the DMA public relations plan is to "get the philosophical and actual PR support of several major -- or multiple minor -- ISPs by the launch date". We must ensure that the DMA does not succeed in deceiving any major or minor ISPs into believing that the DMA advances the interests of anyone other than its members -- and at the expense of major and minor ISPs alike!

The DMA has confirmed that Internet service providers will not be permitted to register their domains with e-MPS; see In this article, Pat Faley, again demonstrating the DMA's hypocritical notion of ethics, asserts that ISPs do not have the right to control their own private property. Faley claims that since ISPs already spend considerable amounts of money on filtering unwelcome e-mail messages, "ISPs don't need an e-mail preference service." This self-interested opinion is not supported by any facts whatsoever, and, indeed, is controverted by a considerable body of evidence of which the DMA is well aware.

DMA Leadership Condemned by Membership

The DMA leadership is being called to task for its cluelessness and the missed opportunity to move forward in a cooperative rather than adversarial manner. See Dana Blankenhorn's first article and his follow-up. Rodney Joffe, quoted in the Salon article, has also published strong criticisms of the DMA leadership in an open letter to DM News and copied to Rodney's letter is available here.

Ian Oxman, founder of the opt-in based bulk e-mail service ChooseYourMail, also had harsh criticisms for e-MPS and the DMA leadership in his essay "How the DMA Supports Spammers" (text version available here). MAPS is pleased that some members of the DMA understand the critical issues at stake here, and we hope they will convince the DMA leadership to abandon their foolhardy plan.

The Direct Marketing Industry and the Sham of Self-Regulation

The direct marketing industry has an atrocious record of self regulation. All self-regulatory efforts thus far have served the interests of direct marketers exclusively to the detriment of consumers. Read more about the sham of direct marketing industry self-regulation here. It is our hope that other organizations can learn from the past so they will not be condemned to repeat it when it comes to the DMA and the direct marketing industry.

By Nick Nicholas, last revised: July 20, 2004.

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