Live from Email Evolution Conference: Luncheon Keynote Panel Focuses on Email, US Policy and Beyond
February 13, 2008 — Relevance and vigilance: These are two watchwords attendees most likely carried with them from a luncheon panel discussion held Tuesday during the Email Evolution Conference hosted by the Email Experience Council (eec) and DMA.
DMA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Jerry Cerasale posed questions to Eileen Harrington, deputy director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, and Jordan Cohen, senior director of corporate communication for Epsilon, as they explored the topic of email legislation and its impact on the fight against spam.
“The FTC, a couple of years ago, held its first workshop on email marketing,” Cerasale said. “When I attended, it was interesting to see that the view was maybe email marketing was dead because spam was going to kill it.” However, he continued, when the FTC held another email marketing workshop, it became evident that email marketing had become “an important arrow in the quiver that marketers have in trying to reach potential customers.”
“There’s been pretty good compliance by companies selling goods and services or servicing those who do with CAN-SPAM,” Harrington told the Email Evolution conferees, pointing out that studies have shown that ISP email filters are increasingly effective at keeping spam out of consumers’ inboxes. But the most problematic spam is that which is tied in to criminal conduct. “Spam that’s getting through is often a vector for crime, either by having code loaded on it to download malware and spyware, or turn into a botnet to send out illegal spam,” she said.
Harrington strongly urged attendees to practice vigilance. “Many of you wear many hats as marketers, involved in hiring networks and online agencies to display your ads,” she said. “You are also responsible for knowing how your ads are delivered to people’s computers. Know who is distributing your advertisements and make sure that they are getting consent before they download software.”
In the 1990s, Harrington explained, there was a great deal of focus on tracking, cookies, and fair information practices. The FTC then shifted its focus to online issues where there was “not the possibility, but actual harm to consumers.” So the emphasis has been increasingly on data security, and ensuring that personal identifiable information be protected using reasonable measures. Recently, she said, the Commission has come back to some of the earlier issues of online marketing.
Regarding personal identifiable data on consumers, Harrington pointed out that marketers must use reasonable and appropriate measures to protect that information from hacking attempts. “Everyone needs to get up to speed on data security. This is of the greatest and highest concern in FTC's work,” Harrington stressed.
Jordan Cohen addressed public policy issues and the battle against spam from the prospective of responsible email marketers.
“In the past,” Cohen said, “the great debate was about what spam is — in other words, how it differs from legitimate email marketing.” Studies found that not only was there a difference in content, he said, but also in the methods by which they were sent. Not only were scam artists selling pills and pedaling false miracle cures, they were “also using high-tech, evasive methods to hide their methods and hijack people’s PCs.”
Cohen pointed out that most experts understand that Internet technology is the only solution. Even the most restrictive laws will not solve the problem, he explained, but could instead squash the market economy.
As spam raged, “behind the scenes, the states themselves were one by one enacting their own laws,” Cohen said. Since spam is a global problem, he pointed out, this piecemeal approach just created costly business expenses, and spam continued to grow unabated.
Before CAN-SPAM, Cohen explained, marketers were dealing with incomprehensible spam laws. An enforceable, national “line in the sand” was needed to delineate which practices were legal and which were not, and at the same time come down hard on the bad actors. This need, he said, was finally filled with the CAN-SPAM law.
But even after the enactment of CAN-SPAM, spam continues to be a major problem.
“CAN-SPAM was not meant as a panacea,” said Cohen. “But it has been an effective tool against spammers, and makes a clear line in the sand. Marketers must understand that’s all it does. This is about much more than complying with the law.”
In the fight against spam, Cohen emphasized, email authentication has emerged as an important solution that attacks spam at the source, and complicates the ability for spammers to work harm. In fact, Cohen said, the latest figures show 50 percent of all email globally is using some form of authentication — a very encouraging figure.
“In 2008,” Cohen said, “we finally have definition of spam — spam is in the eye of the beholder.” This, he emphasized, is essential to make explicitly clear to marketers. As Cohen put it, in the fight against spam, “relevancy trumps everything else.”
About the Email Experience Council (eec):
The Email Experience Council (eec) (www.emailexperience.org), the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) vertical working group that is focused on the email marketing industry, is a global professional organization striving to enhance the image of email marketing and communications, while celebrating and advocating its importance in business, and its ROI value. The eec is committed to regularly conducting a broad series of email initiatives for a variety of organizations that highlight the positive impact and importance of email as a marketing tool, communications vehicle, and branding device. Additionally, eec members are setting the standards for email through Marketing Roundtables. The eec members are representatives of other trade organizations, agencies, advertisers, technology partners, clients, and companies focused on the potential of email marketing via mobile and other digital devices.
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