Question Four: What is the impact of the do not email list?
To understand the answer to this question, you have to look at the brief history of the national “Do Not Call” list, implemented in October 2003 by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Do Not Call list was implemented in response to consumer complaints about telemarketers interrupting their key means of communication with annoying phone calls. I call this practice “phone spam.” Telemarketing is in fact just like spam, because it’s unsolicited, untargeted, and rather annoying. Consumers apparently agreed with that definition, which eventually motivated them to generate tremendous political pressure to solve the telemarketing problem.
The Do Not Call list was thus implemented, and call volume dropped off significantly for those people who submitted their phone numbers for the list, making it a tremendous success in the eyes of the public and the politicians who passed the law. Riding on the momentum of the success of this list, many people and lawmakers wanted to pass a similar law to help stem the email spam problem. This is what gave rise to the national “Do Not Email” list, even though the idea of the Do Not Email list is based on faulty reasoning: that spammers will adhere to the law. And, as we’ve seen following the implementation of federal anti-spam legislation that went into effect Jan. 1, 2004, spammers simply ignore federal law. They will not comply. Thus, the Do Not Email list idea is dead on arrival. It will have absolutely no impact on spammers, and will only serve to confuse legitimate email marketers and create an ever-increasing burden on them to comply with a law that has no bottom line benefit to the public.
Personally, based on these reasons and many others, I hope and predict that the Do Not Email list idea will never be implemented. It is bad policy and it won’t stop spam. You will hopefully never need to comply with a Do Not Email list; however, if the political process continues to move forward despite the rather obvious evidence that spammers do not comply with federal law, it is possible that the Do Not Email list idea will be passed and you will be forced to comply with it. In such a case, you will only have to download the list of email addresses from the FTC and purge those emails from your existing database, making sure that you never email those people any sort of unsolicited email advertisement. You can still email people on those lists if they are your existing customers and you have their permission—the conditions under which you should be emailing people in the first place, lending even more irrelevance to the Do Not Email list concept. This is because email marketers who are mailing people with their permission don’t need to use the list, and spammers who are emailing people without their permission will simply refuse to use the list.
So the bottom-line answer to the question of what will be the impact of the Do Not Email list concept is a simple one: it will be an extra hoop for legitimate, responsible email marketers. Passage of the Do Not Email list will serve as good political posturing for a few lawmakers who want to create the impression they are doing something to fight spam, even though spammers are doing nothing to comply with the law.