March 12, 2006
Do-Not-Contact Registries Proliferating?
By Eric Goldman
There has been a groundswell of action at the state level to implement do-not-contact registries of various kinds. Two of particular note:
1) Don't-spam-my-kid Registries. Two states (Utah and Michigan) already have laws enabling do-not-spam registries for kids' email addresses. Now, according to BNA (registration required), six more states are considering hopping on the bandwagon (including Wisconsin)--despite the FTC's public announcement that it thinks these registries are a bad idea, plus the pending lawsuit against Utah's registry.
I have yet to see how the implementation authenticates that the registered email address is actually used by a kid. Without that authentication, these registries have the potential to be backdoor across-the-board do-not-email registries. If so, draping the do-not-email registries in the "protect the kids" flag inhibits robust discussion about the real effects of the registry.
2) Don't-junk-mail-me Registries. At least 3 states (Missouri, New York and Illinois) have introduced laws to create do-not-mail registries analogous to the very popular do-not-call registries. For reasons that I've not entirely understood, the delivery of junk mail is lightly-regulated compared to telemarketing and email marketing. Perhaps that is ready to change. In my Coasean Analysis of Marketing paper, I will point out the policy deficiencies of "do-not-contact" registries generally, so I find the possible proliferation of such registries troubling.
Unlike telemarketing, junk mail does not interupt and distract the recipient at inconvenient times. Unlike email marketing, junk mail is expensive enough that marketers put some thought into whether or not to send something -- meaning that the volume tends to remain managable and the content is more likely to be at least minimally relevant. All in all its much less intrusive than the others. The more annoying something is, the more incentive there is to craft regulations to make it stop.
I've often heard it claimed that some people actually like getting spam. Never believed it. I do, however, *know* that some people like getting junk mail ... because I'm married to such a person. My wife treats her pile of junk mail like I treat the sports page ... and she won't cotton to any politician who tries to take it from her.
Posted by: Paul McNamara at March 17, 2006 02:36 PM
Thanks Paul. It's interesting how people have divergent attitudes towards unsolicited marketing depending on the medium used to deliver it. I have a lot more to say about this shortly. Eric.
Posted by: Eric at March 28, 2006 11:41 AM
Kevin, you're correct that the increasing sending costs gives marketers more incentives to target. However, I've tried to model a marketing regulatory scheme based on the degree of annoying-ness of the medium, and that doesn't work. Focusing just on the level of annoyance misses some important dynamics and thereby distorts the regulatory decision-making. I'll lay this case out in more detail shortly. Eric.
Posted by: Eric at March 28, 2006 11:43 AM