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Marketing groups join forces

The Direct Marketing Association is acquiring Net trade group the Association for Interactive Media to build up Net firms' lobbying power.

Established lobbying powerhouse the Direct Marketing Association is acquiring burgeoning Internet trade group the Association for Interactive Media in an effort to build up Net businesses' lobbying power.

The move will give Net firms resources they need to lobby Congress about issues pertaining to the Internet, said Andy Sernovitz, president of the Association for Interactive Media (AIM).

The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) "has a lot of muscle," he said. "Internet companies haven't had access to a serious powerhouse lobbying group. We can start to win these fights for the Internet industry."

But some antispammers worry that the AIM will lose its Internet-savvy focus under the DMA, an 81-year-old organization that has focused on marketing in the offline world for years, but has faced opposition online for some of its stances, particularly with regard to unsolicited mass email.

Antispam activist Ray Everett-Church said he had come to respect the AIM as a savvy and growing group that lobbied Congress on key Internet-related issues.

"I thought they were really up and coming in the Internet marketing world," said Everett-Church, cofounder of antispam group the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email. "I got the sense that they were looking for a good middle ground between privacy-consumer concerns and the needs and concerns of businesses and marketers.

"It seemed to me they were really trying to take advantage of the absence of good strong lobbying efforts on behalf on new media," he added. "I wonder how their forward thinking will be affected now that they're under the wing of the DMA."

Everett-Church, like many other antispamming activists, does not think the DMA's antispam policy is strong enough because it allows marketers to send unsolicited email, provided they give recipients a way to opt out. Antispammers instead support rules that call for marketers to get permission before sending the email.

Sernovitz of the AIM, however, said that the DMA's policy holds companies accountable for sending out unsolicited email and added that when companies break the DMA's rules, they can get kicked out of the organization.

"The ardent antispammers are out of line," he added. "They want to end all commercial email."

In fact, Everett-Church and others have said they oppose any commercial email that is sent without permission.

Instead, he said the DMA, along with the AIM, can use its considerable power to educate companies on an array of issues, including spam--just as it tries to educate Congress, Sernovitz said.

He added that working together, the AIM will be able to gain more influence when it tries to gain allies in Congress.