DMA Quietly Kills Telephone Preference Service

By Eric Goldman

In a move that’s sure to disappoint no one, the Direct Marketing Association is going to end the Telephone Preference Service everywhere except for Maine, Pennsylvania and Wyoming (where the TPS is the statutory default do-not-call list). The DMA press release. There will be a transitional period before the TPS is turned off, and if you really care, you can still sign up for the TPS through Oct. 31. I wouldn’t expect a rush of last-minute registrations.

Why did the TPS fail? The DMA cites the “competition” (my word, not theirs) from the federal Do-Not-Call registry, which basically superseded the TPS’s function. The whole point of the TPS was to avoid federal regulation through effective industry self-regulation. The TPS, in a sense, failed when the federal Do-Not-Call registry was implemented. The DMA’s killing of the TPS is just the inevitable denouement.

(Note also that the press release cites the expense to DMA members to comply with the TPS, so this move may be prompted more by reducing member expense than anything else).

But why did the TPS fail to prevent federal regulation? I can think of a variety of theories, including:

* the TPS was never comprehensive. Registration only applied to DMA members, which was a subset of all the marketers. So the TPS was, by its very architecture, an incomplete solution

* consumers hate telemarketing than just about any other form of marketing. So long as any telemarketing continued, it was inevitable that consumer antipathy would boil over and demand more stringent regulation.

* it was not easy to sign up for the TPS, and this barrier to entry reduced sign-ups, which in turn made the registry ineffective.

* the TPS was not adequately marketed/promoted to consumers to let them know of its availability.

* consumers never trusted the DMA–there was a little bit of a fox-guarding-the-henhouse problem with giving the King of Marketers some personal data that could be misused.

* there wasn’t an effective-enough enforcement mechanism or sanction for DMA members who failed to honor the TPS

I don’t really know exactly why the TPS failed. However, until we figure that out, it’s possible that the replacement solution (the federal Do-Not-Call registry) doesn’t really overcome those problems. I know the Do-Not-Call registry has been wildly popular, but I continue to be skeptical that it really solves “the” problem, and I continue to fear that it creates other problems for the flow of information that benefits consumers and society generally. I’ll lay out my case against the Do-Not-Call registry in my next big paper.