More on the debacle

By | September 28, 2009

My blog postings about the DMA (initial and followup) got picked up at The Consumerist and got over 5,200 views, which is a respectable take, but not nearly as good as when Continental lost my daughter :-).  You will also find on The Consumerist a rebuttal from the DMA which doesn’t actually respond substantively to any of my complaints.

My detailed analysis of everything that’s wrong with the DMA’s Web site from a security point of view was published in the RISKS Digest.

After my complaints were published on my blog and at The Consumerist, I continued to have additional problems with the Web site.  I contacted the DMA through the form on the site and asked for assistance, and they did not respond.  Apparently, they’ve decided that they don’t actually have to support users whom they don’t like.

I’ve figured out why I was able to register successfully with one particular email address but not with the other one.  The first email address I was able to register was 30 characters long, and the one that would not work was 31 characters long.  Apparently, there is a bug in their application which causes it to choke on email addresses longer than 30 characters. Note that it must be a bug in the application, and not a restriction in the underlying database, because a DMA customer service representative was able to modify one of my accounts to change its username to the 31-character email address I was not able to register with.

Unfortunately, the bug not only affects the new-account registration section of the application, it also affects the profile editing screen.  Once the customer service representative changed one of my accounts to have a 31-character email address, I was able to log in, but I was not able to modify the settings on the account to either switch to a shorter email address or change my password.

If you try to log into the site with an old username (i.e., from before they started using email addresses as usernames), you are brought directly to a screen which requires you to enter an email address to replace the old username.  This screen allows you to enter email addresses longer than 30 characters, which then locks your account into the problems described above (i.e., you can’t edit your profile or change your password).

If the account activation email sent by the site is lost, e.g., it gets blocked by your spam filter or (in my case) you forgot to run “newaliases” after creating the email address you gave to the site, there’s no way to get the site to generate another activation email — you are locked out of the account completely for 30 days, after which the account is apparently deleted or something and you can register again.  Perhaps the DMA’s customer service people can unlock the account or generate another activation email, but I wouldn’t know, since (as noted above) they’ve stopped responding to requests from me for assistance.

I asserted in one of my previous blog entries that when you remove all the sugar-coating, the real reason why exists is to make it seem like the DMA and its members actually care about consumer preferences to prevent the government from deciding to regulate the direct-marketing industry.  Lo and behold, on the home page, they actually admit it!  “Effective self-regulatory actions will directly respond to the advocates and regulators who otherwise would respond with their own initiatives.”

To be honest, the DMA’s opt-out list is effective, to a certain extent.  When I added myself and my family to it, the amount of junk mail we were receiving decreased.  This does not change the fact that the hoops they make people jump through to get onto the list and stay on the list are so absurd, and the Web site so badly designed and supported, that it is reasonable to believe that they don’t actually want it to be easy for people to opt out of junk mail.  Although I suppose it is also possible that the people at the DMA who designed, implemented and support the site are simply incompetent.

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12 thoughts on “More on the debacle

  1. Steven R.

    The citizens of this country need to vote a law into effect that ANYTHING that is dropped inside the perimeters of someone’s property – that was NOT requested by the homeowner – SHOULD BE CONSIDERED LITTER – ( because it goes directly into the landfill. )
    The post office and Direct Marketing Association should be held accountable for ( CRIMES AGAINST THE ENVIRONMENT ) and ( hundreds of millions of counts of LITTERING.)
    This would stop EVERYTHING.

  2. rustyk

    These vultures prey on the elderly, who don’t understand why they are getting all this junk, or what it is, and who rarely have or understand internet access. My mother receives about 50 of these items every day, and all efforts to contact the dma by phone end up with dead air. The USPS appears actively complicit (I assume because of financial stress), and attempts to find an address for the dma have turned up no less than four (so far) different ones. Even if a valid address is found, the dma wants to be paid in order to cease activity, and in order to cancel mailings on the website, they require a social security number. Who in their right mind would give this info to these people?

    1. jik Post author

      I don’t understand why you would need to contact the DMA by phone. You can opt your mother out of receiving mailings from DMA members by registering her at, which is certainly a lot easier than arguing with them on the telephone.

      I’m also not sure why you say it’s difficult to find their mailing address. There is a link on the home page to a form you can file on paper, and there’s a mailing address right on that form.

      I don’t recall being asked for a social security number when I registered at There is no require for a social security number on the aforementioned paper form.

      The DMA doesn’t charge anything if you register via, and the fee for registering on paper is only $1, which seems quite reasonable given that it costs them more to process a paper registration than one submitted via the web site.

      You need to remember that it’s not the DMA that’s sending you these mailings, it’s their member organizations, so blaming the DMA for the mailings is specious. You also need to remember that not every organization that sends junk mail belongs to the DMA and filters its mailings through their opt-out list. You also need to remember that the DMA opt-out list does not apply to any organization with which a person has done business before, so if your mother has bought products from a company / donated to a charity / whatever, they will send her mailings regardless of whether she is on the DMA list, until she asks them to stop.

      If you want to stop junk mail, is a good step to take. So is registering at and using it to ask specific junk mailers to stop. If all else fails, you may need to start asking individual mailers directly to remove you from their list, as I have been doing with much success for several years.

      1. Wslters

        They are happy to collect and charge your credit card for the two bucks but the junk mail continues to fill my mailbox. I want my two bucks back and will continue to call the mailing businesses that their money is being waisted since it goes directly into the recycle bin.

      2. Wslters

        They are happy to collect and charge your credit card for the two bucks but the junk mail continues to fill my mailbox. I want my two bucks back and will continue to call the mailing businesses that their money is being waisted since it goes directly into the recycle bin.

  3. Holly

    I found that scratching off my name and writing “return to sender/unknown” not only takes me off their list but makes them pay for all postage fees and keeps the mail system humming. They eventually take you off since they do not want to pay for a mailing that will only come back to them.

    1. Anonymous

      How can they take you off the lists? You take your name off and they have no idea who returned the mail.

      1. jik Post author

        Just draw a line through the name, so that the address is still visible. They are able to unsubscribe such returned pieces from the list because they can look up the list entry by address, and also because most of these mailings have a subscriber number of some sort somewhere on the label, and they can look up that number in their database.

        1. ERA

          First Class mail (has a real stamp on it) does get returned to the original sender, at no charge — returning undeliverable mail is built into the 42¢ cost.

          Third class (bulk or ‘junk’) mail is normally NOT returned (even if you write “return to sender” on it) — it is just discarded.

          Unless the sender has something printed on the envelope like “Return Service Requested” or “Forwarding Service Requested” or “Address Service Requested”. If those were printed on the original mail, then the Post Office will Return or Forward or whatever, and the original sender will pay for that service.

          Most ‘junk’ mail does not have this printed, because they do not want to pay for people like you who refuse their mail. They do want actual changes-of-address, but they get those electronically through a subscription service with the Post Office.

  4. Jan

    And I thought it was me….thanks for the info

  5. John

    Thank you for the heads up on the character limitation to register! I had tried about 50 times on various computers, browsers, etc. with no luck. Your post was a great help to me and my longer named colleagues.

    – John

  6. Chuck


    Thanks for covering this issue. We need more consumer voices focused on this so that we can get mailers to honor consumer preferences. It will be interesting to see what happens this mailing season as the policies that require mailers to provide information on how to opt-down or opt-out on *every* piece of consumer marketing mail go into effect. Feel free to include your voice over at our blog too:



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