Live from DMA2012: DMA Launches Institute To Challenge Regulation Of Consumer Data

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The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) announced the launch of the Data-Driven Marketing Institute (DDMI) – an initiative put forth to provide research, consumer education, and advocacy to stand up to data-regulating legislation.

“There seems to be a lot of fear-mongering out there that's just inaccurate. There's just no other way to say it,” said DMA acting CEO and president Linda Woolley. “When the chairman of the FTC talks about going online and buying a deep fryer and having consumers be afraid that they're going to be denied health insurance, that's just flat wrong. We decided that it's time to correct some of these mis-characterizations and misapprehensions.”

Woolley said the DMA aims to devote more than $1 million to the program and intends to implement lobbying efforts, research on consumer attitudes and economic impact, and tools and education regarding consumer online behavior. Woolley listed DMAchoice, a tool that allows consumers to opt out of receiving advertising mail, as an example of DMA's consumer assistance.

“We believe that consumers absolutely have the right to  know what's going on and opt out if they don't want it,” Woolley said.

Woolley maintained that marketing with consumer data is not only good for the economy, but is also a way of life for consumers. “The use of consumer's personal data is…something they expect, something they want, and something that is ingrained in their lives,” she said. “Lots of parts of the economy are not growing. Not so with direct marketing." Woolley said that if consumers were overly concerned about their privacy, they would take more action.

“You would see them voting with their feet, and they would stop doing the things that they're doing,” Woolley said. “They would stop using their mobile devices in certain ways, they would stop signing up for loyalty programs, they would stop using geo-targeting, they would stop downloading apps. Consumers do have the power to stop something when they don't like it and they don't want to be part of it. We have not seen any evidence of that at all.”

In a phone interview from the DMA2012 conference in Las Vegas, consumer advocate John Simpson told Direct Marketing News that “the DMA is blowing smoke and trying to cover everything up.”

“It's one thing to understand that a business with which you have an ongoing relationship has information about you and uses that information to better provide service to you or tell you about things they think you might like,” Simpson said. “But to have a bunch of non-consumer facing businesses trading information in the dark about you that's then used to make decisions about you is blatantly unfair.”

Simpson said the FTC proposed creating a website describing data broker activities but that the DMA declined the request. He also addressed the DDMI's decision to prevent legislative restrictions on data collection.

“We're not even at the point of any kind of regulation.We're at the stage where regulators and public officials are simply saying, ‘We need to understand these practices.' It's not a question of stopping unnecessary regulation. It's a question of trying to keep the practices in the dark.”

Yet at the DMA2012 conference,Woolley claimed that data-based marketing is a benefit. She also insists that the naysayers are light on evidence. “When the privacy zealots talk about harm, I challenge them to tell me what harms have come from marketing,” Woolley said. “The examples that Jon Leibowitz talks about don't make any sense and they're absolutely not happening.”

In other news, The DMA Board of Directors reelected Matt Blumberg, chairman and CEO of Return Path to serve as Board Chairman for a second term and approved four new Board members for the 2013 to 2014 year. Kristen O'Hara, CMO of Time Warner Global Media Group; Jay Schwedelson, president and CEO of Worldata; Jackie Wilgar, EVP of marketing—North America for Live Nation; and Julie Bernard, Group VP of customer centricity, direct marketing and loyalty for Macy's join the 29 other Board members.

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