Go back in time to 1994. Privacy was the hot-button topic in the consumer press. From cover stories in Business Week to reports on the nightly news, the media was stirring the pot about Big Brother—particularly with regard to direct marketers’ use of list and database information.
We all took a deep breath and waited for the other shoe to drop, and ... nothing happened. The press moved on, the public (mostly) simmered down, and the issue was put on the back burner.
Recently, however, two events converged to bring the privacy issue to a boil again: the explosive growth of the Internet over the past year and implementation of the E.U. data protection directive in October 1998.
“Now more than ever—between the E.U. directive, the Internet, the rising tide of state and federal legislation, and the growing threat of class action suits—direct marketers are facing greater risks on the privacy front,” says Harriet Z. Heyman, vice president/general manager of Harte-Hanks Lists & Data.
“There is a sea change going on in regards to privacy,” confirms Marty Abrams, vice president of Experian. “For the first time, the U.S. government is putting forth a policy that is somewhat hostile to the secondary use of information.”
The Direct Marketing Association is rightly concerned. “This [privacy] issue has the serious potential of being life threatening to our industry,” said DMA President/CEO H. Robert Wientzen, speaking at the recent Net.Marketing Conference. Wientzen added that The DMA is “pleading” with members to comply with its Privacy Promise (see p. 38 for an explanation) now, rather than waiting for the July 1 deadline.
Why the hurry? Web sweeps and other FTC activity happening right now could impact whether Congress gears up to propose legislation.
So far, 1,200 consumer marketers have complied, and Pat Faley, vice president of ethics/consumer affairs for The Direct Marketing Association in Washington, D.C., says she has no doubt that the great majority will comply by July 1.