The Opt-Out Fee

Monday, October 02, 2006

For years the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), an organization of businesses that send out bulk unsolicited marketing communications, has let individuals protect their privacy by allowing them to "opt out" of receiving DMA member materials. Consumers who wanted to opt out had to write a letter to the DMA stating that they wished to have their name removed from DMA-affiliated marketing lists. People who took the trouble to do this were relatively junk-mail free for the next five years. Recently, the DMA changed its policy and implemented a $1 opt out fee. The direct marketers claim that the fee is necessary “to protect our system from fraud.” While $1 might not be too painful, the fee will certainly discourage millions from placing their names on the association’s “do not mail” list. Many consumers who might consider the $1 well spent will balk at providing financial information to the DMA, which asks for credit card or bank account information before honoring opt-out requests. The DMA even reaches beyond the grave by charging the fee to get on its “Deceased Do Not Contact List.” After death—the ultimate opt-out—you should be able to rest in peace. But the DMA justifies the charge, stating that it "serves two important purposes: to make sure we have a permanent record of the credit card information of those who did the registering; and to help prevent misuse of, or fraud against, this system." So I might fake my own death to avoid junk mail? Puhleeze! Earth to Direct Marketing Association: an opt-out is not a buyout. To learn about the finer points of junk mail and how to scale it back, visit JunkBusters, Jason Catlett's brilliant site, and the Electronic Privacy Information Clearinghouse, a wealth of information about privacy and the right to be left alone. But if you’re one to give as good as you get, check out how one activist fought back against junk mailers.

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