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Direct Hit

Can direct marketing survive a consumer backlash?

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

Telemarketing, junk mail and spam have consumers up in arms. NowCongress, the states and large technology companies are takingaction. AOL and Microsoft are suing spammers, and at least fiveanti-spam bills are making their way through Congress. Fraudulentspam is already illegal, but Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MO) and Sen. RonWyden (D-OR) are co-sponsoring the "Can Spam Act," whichwould make it a federal crime to send unsolicited e-mail toconsumers who "opt out." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) issponsoring a bill to create a "no spam" registry, andsome states are considering "do not spam" lists that willlet consumers sue spammers. In California, state Sen. Debra Bowen(D-Marina Del Rey) is sponsoring a bill requiring companies to getconsumers' permission before sending commercial e-mail.

Telemarketing is being called on the carpet, too: The FTC'snational "do not call" registry requires telemarketers toreveal their phone numbers via caller ID, limits "abandonedcalls" (when consumers pick up and there's no one on theline), and charges fines of up to $11,000 per violation. While thetide hasn't turned for a national ban on telemarketing, moststates have adopted "do not call" lists, and the FTCrecently asked Congress for even more power to go after spammersand telemarketers.

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