Truste, a non-profit organisation known for its privacy certification and seal program, along with ePrivacy Group, a US privacy consulting, training and technology company, this week announced the launch of an e-mail certification and seal program. The new program, called "Trusted Sender," was unveiled at the International Association of Privacy Officers' Annual Privacy and Security Summit in Washington DC. Microsoft, DoubleClick and Topica are among the companies that are backing and testing the beta program. Other initial supporters of the program include the International Association of Privacy Officers (IAPO) and the Association of Interactive Marketing (AIM).
Essentially, the two organisations have created a consensus on best practices and principles that will let users identify spammers sending unwanted electronic messages. E-mail marketers and advertisers who register to become a Trusted Sender certified company will include a unique seal in all e-mails they send out. Concerned recipients can click on the stamp, which connects them to the Trusted Sender computer to verify the legitimacy of the e-mail sender.
Furthermore Truste and the ePrivacy Group guarantee that participants in the program will give users the ability to easily unsubscribe from the marketers' database. Finally, through the program, consumers will have dispute resolution systems in place to combat would-be spammers.
But Andrew O'Shaughnessy of the Irish e-mail marketing firm E-Search pointed out that the new system proposed by Truste won't stop users from actually receiving the e-mails.
"People will still have to open the mail to see if its spam or not," he said. "It's my hope at this stage that people are becoming better educated about what is and is not spam and what they can do to filter mail with their own software."
Meanwhile, the US Federal Trade Commission said on Thursday that it was gearing up for a "systematic attack" on deceptive spam and opt-out notices. Howard Beales, the director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, who was also speaking at the event in Washington, claimed that the powerful US regulatory agency will announce "law enforcement actions" regarding spam in upcoming weeks. The FTC did not release any further details of the plan but Beales' comments come on the eve of the FTC's National Consumer Protection Week, which starts on Sunday.
Other initiatives at the event included the Direct Marketing Association's (DMA) plans to announce its "Commercial Solicitation Online Guidelines," which will require its 5,000 members to follow privacy standards including opt-out guidelines and selling of e-mail databases.
Near the end of 2001 the EU issued a directive on spam as part of its 1998 Data Protection Directive. The EU decision gives member states one of two options in terms of laws to enact, opt-in or opt-out, for curbing the use of spam in the sale of financial services. Opt-in requires marketers to get recipients' permission first, while opt-out requires marketers to discontinue sending e-mails at the request of the recipients. Ireland has not yet implemented either measure and critics have said the EU guidelines for spam are not strong enough and will do little to prevent the irritating mails from flowing.
"Most of my spam comes form the US, the EU's laws won't stop that," O'Shaughnessy said. "I'm all for trying to stop spam, but the general consensus is that it damages your company. For now all we can do is regulate the legitimate companies; there is not much that can be done to stop the 'earn extra money at home' crowd."