Home Blogs Diary 2011 02

Opting out, opting in, and junk busting

2nd February 2011

My prediction for 2011 was that the directory industry is going to make it a bit easier for people to cancel paper directories. Nothing much has happened in the UK on that front but on the other side of the Pond there are some interesting developments.

New: an opt-out website that allows people to opt out

The Yellow Pages Association has at long last improved its opt-out website so that people can now actually use the site to cancel phone books (so far it only gave the contact details of Yellow Pages publishers participating in the opt-out scheme). The website is full of greenwash very much written from the perspective of the publishers, and there are still publishers that don't give people the option of not receiving directories. Still, it's progress.

A peculiar feature of the site is that people need to create an account with the Yellow Pages Association in order to opt-out. Why would anyone want to set up an account just to cancel unsolicited directories? Why subscribe to unsubscribe? It's probably just an attempt to discourage people from opting out, though it wouldn't surprise me if another aim is to collect people's personal data with the aim of using them for 'direct marketing purposes'. If you are reluctant to give the Yellow Pages Association your e-mail address and other irrelevant personal details you should follow the of Gizmodo:

To avoid any potential spam, I recommend you create an e-mail account just for registration – say, fuckyouyellowpages12345@gmail.com.

San Francisco: opting in?

Interestingly, yellowpagesoptout.com was relaunched on the very day that San Francisco announced it may become the first city in the States to introduce an opt-in scheme for the Yellow Pages. It's estimated that 1.5 million Yellow Pages books are distributed in the city every year, creating an impressive mountain of waste and leaving tax payers with a large bill for disposing of the books. The Yellow Pages Association sees things differently; it feels its right to free speech is being violated and that it's unfair that San Francisco is not also taking measures against direct mail companies, phone solicitors and the like. I'm not sure if they would feel better should San Francisco decide that other branches of the unsolicited marketing industry should indeed be given the same treatment.

Seattle: opting out?

The Yellow Pages Association has already taken Seattle City Council to court for daring to pass legislation introducing an opt-out scheme for the Yellow Pages. The Association again argues that giving people the option to say 'no' to unsolicited directories violates its right to free speech. A slightly awkward position to take in this case, given that the Association has just set up a nationwide opt-out scheme; it would seem that its own website is equally unconstitutional.

The reason why the industry objects to Seattle's opt-out scheme is that it's not as noncommittal as its own creation. If Seattle gets its way publishers will need to apply for a licence and pay a 'distribution fee' covering the cost of both administering the scheme and disposing of directories. Even more scary; the scheme would be enforced – people would be allowed to complaint to the Council should distributors ignore residents who have opted out.

UK: still junk busting

In case you're wondering where the UK version of yellowpagesoptout.com can be found; it doesn't exist. The Data Publishers Association still has a policy of keeping quiet about canceling directories. None of the three main directories in the UK (the Yellow Pages, Thomson Local Directory and BT Phone Book) dares to tell people about its opt-out schemes. In a way this is not so bad as you can easily opt out via Junk Buster. It's not 'industry approved', but at least the opt-out machine is 'industry tolerated'. Plus, Junk Buster won't throw any greenwash at you, and it won't ask you to create an account…

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2nd February 2011
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