By Susan Gluss, Futurity
UC BERKELEY (US) — Not much unites Americans across all
ideologies, age groups, and income levels, but a new survey reveals
that most want a stop to junk mail.
In the new Privacy and Advertising Mail survey, national
data shows that 81 percent of respondents support the creation of a
mail service similar to the popular Do Not Call registry.
“Our survey is in line with consumer polls conducted over the last
four decades that reflect a frustration with advertising mail,” says
co-author Chris Hoofnagle, a University of California, Berkeley School
of Law lecturer and director of information privacy programs at the
Berkeley Center for Law & Technology.
Advertising material now comprises more than half of all mail
delivered to private homes and businesses. Many Americans not only
consider it a nuisance, but also a privacy violation.
“Americans may view advertising mail as a privacy issue because of
database activities underlying the targeting of mail. They also may
dislike the sense of intrusion created when advertising material flows
into the home,” says co-author Jennifer M. Urban, assistant clinical
professor of law.
Despite years of survey research showing broad objection to
advertising mail, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has courted
direct marketers. The researchers cite the agency’s dire financial needs
as a possible impetus for this approach. The Postal Service has lost
tens of billions of dollars the last few years, losing about $57 million
per day in the last quarter alone.
Privacy concerns have captured the attention of US regulators,
leading to the passage of several laws regulating marketing practices,
but advertising mail has remained untouched. Although the Direct
Marketing Association has operated a self-regulatory opt-out system
since 1971, the “Mail Preference Service,” it only blocks only about 1
percent of advertising mail.
“The USPS’ fiscal challenges have created incentives for the agency
that directly contravene recipients’ desire to manage advertising mail,”
says Urban. “The Postal Service has created many innovations to help
advertisers increase mail volume, but it’s done little to assist
Americans manage unwanted advertising mail.”
Congress did direct the Postal Service to implement a system to stop
pandering, called “prohibitory orders.” This could, in theory, be used
to address privacy concerns from unwanted mail, as well. But it is
paper-based and labor-intensive, requiring the recipient to open and
send each rejected mail piece to a specific postal office. It is
considered an ineffective and outdated way to limit direct mail,
according to the report.
The survey is the fourth in a series developed under the Berkeley
Consumer Privacy Survey initiative. It involved telephone interviews
(landline and wireless) with a nationally representative sample of 1,203
adult Internet users living in the continental US.