The advent of the national "Do-Not-Call" phone solicitation registry last year was a landmark achievement in terms of consumer rights, and the enthusiasm with which the public embraced the idea surprised many legislators. (The same groundswell of enthusiasm also frightened those companies that rely on such solicitation as a cornerstone of their basic business models!)
But as countless news articles on e-mail spamming have underscored in recent months, the national registry barely scratches the surface when it comes to the opportunities that exist for companies to bombard the public with various forms of unwanted solicitation.
Lost in many such discussions is the real mutual value that is provided when individuals give permission to companies and suppliers they trust to keep them informed about new products, applications and services that may be of real interest. I personallywelcome and regularly use information provided by various companies I've given permission to send me news and product information related to my personal and professional interests.
It's also worth pointing out that companies like FM's parent, Penton Media, have a vested interest in such "permission-based marketing;" and most of the advertisers that make the magazine possible believe in it as well. (These are the folks who pay to send you your copy of FM "free" each month).
So while I encourage FM readers to give permission to our business partners to approach you via e-mail with foodservice specific information, I am also a big believer in the idea that you should take control over such access using the tools that are available to you.
Responsible companies post their privacy policies, enforce them, and respect the wishes of individuals who make it clear that solications are unwanted. Opt-out procedures that let you remove yourself from their lists should be available so that excessive or unwanted solications from them can be reliably stopped.
But what about all of the other marketers out there who obtain your home or e-mail address or phone number from unknown sources and have little interest in your wish to curtail unwanted advances? Here are a few of the options available to you:
Sick of getting credit card solicitations in the mail? While most financial institutions you do business with reserve the right to solicit you for all types of services offered by them and their business partners in the fine print of initial agreements, you can reduce the flood of credit card offers that come in the mail by registering your wishes with the main credit bureaus that regularly include you on lists sold to banks you don't do busines with. The opt-out number is 888-567-8688.
Registering on the federal Do Not Call registry stops most phone solicitors from putting your home phone number on their call lists. It's easy to register online, and registration is good for five years. For details, log on to url www. donotcall.gov/default.aspx.
There are certain categories of solicitors, including nonprofits, that are not covered by the Federal Do-Not-Call Registry. If you want some extra blocking protection, it's also useful to register your preferences with the Direct Marketing Association, which includes some otherwise exempt organizations among its membership.That url is www. dmaconsumers.org.
On the web-surfing front, ad cookies that are inserted in your browser as you surf the web are another problem. Many, like those of market-leader Double Click, Inc., secretly collect personal information about your browsing habits and interests and use this information to send targeted (but unwanted) ads your way as you browse in the future. While the creativity of software writers and e-marketers makes it difficult to avoid such advertising entirely, there are ways to remain more anonymous.
One is provided by Double Click itself, which lets you select an "opt out" cookie to prevent information from being uniquely associated with your browser. For info on how to activate this option, log on to url www.doubleclick.com/us/privacy
The worst spam offenders employ a multitude of tricks to find out your e-mail address. One of the most common is their use of software "spiders" that seek e-mail addresses posted on public web sites. If you have a choice, don't allow your e-mail address to be posted on a site, since it's a virtual certainty that it will be found and used by spammers. Posting your e-mail address is like opening Pandora's Box: once the address is out, you can't get it back in. For the same reason, don't use your regular email address in chat rooms.
Cell phone spam that takes advantage of text-messaging features promises to create a new range of headaches; again, be careful about how widely you make your cellphone number available.