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Direct Hit

Can direct marketing survive a consumer backlash?

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This story appears in the September 2003 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Telemarketing, junk mail and spam have consumers up in arms. Now Congress, the states and large technology companies are taking action. AOL and Microsoft are suing spammers, and at least five anti-spam bills are making their way through Congress. Fraudulent spam is already illegal, but Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MO) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) are co-sponsoring the "Can Spam Act," which would make it a federal crime to send unsolicited e-mail to consumers who "opt out." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is sponsoring a bill to create a "no spam" registry, and some states are considering "do not spam" lists that will let consumers sue spammers. In California, state Sen. Debra Bowen (D-Marina Del Rey) is sponsoring a bill requiring companies to get consumers' permission before sending commercial e-mail.

Telemarketing is being called on the carpet, too: The FTC's national "do not call" registry requires telemarketers to reveal their phone numbers via caller ID, limits "abandoned calls" (when consumers pick up and there's no one on the line), and charges fines of up to $11,000 per violation. While the tide hasn't turned for a national ban on telemarketing, most states have adopted "do not call" lists, and the FTC recently asked Congress for even more power to go after spammers and telemarketers.

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