Junk Mail

US majority says ‘Do Not Mail’

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.

Source: UC Berkeley

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  1. Mike Levin

    I don’t know how it works down there, but up here in Canada we have a “No Junk Mail” statute that is completely ignored by letter carriers. They get paid per piece they drop off. Do you think your versions are going to stop dumping the crap just because a house is on some registry? Fat chance if they’re getting paid.

  2. D. Stewart

    I am a dichotomy. On one hand I can’t stand junk mail. However, I must admit I find several deals that save me hundreds of dollars annually. I have created a junk mail system that works fairly well. Ninety percent of the junk mail hit the recycle bin before ever making it to the “in house” mail pile. I sort based on my needs at that time. Out of town guest, I look for coupons, promotions, discounts for dining and entertainment. Home, garden, clothing, gym needs & etc., I do the same. I can deal with the junk mail better than dealing with thousands of unemployed postal workers in this economy. So, no letters to the congress from me on this issue.

  3. Bill Jackson

    I have heard of a number of people who heat their houses with junk mail by having a delivery address for junk mail and actively getting onto any mailers list.
    Not for all of us, but the USPS needs to be taken off the direct mail teat. As e-mail replaces more and more communications, then junk mail will become a larger and larger proportion of mail until the USPS becomes just an arm of the Direct Marketing Association – or is it already?

  4. Pode

    The solution is simple but I can’t understand why people don’t want to do it…

    1) The Post Office is losing money
    2) Most mail is junk mail

    Increase the cost of sending junk mail!

    People may say that this would increase costs to businesses. To this I say Good! Maybe that would convince advertisers to actually believe people when they say, “No really, I’m more likely to boycott a place that sends me junk mail than I am to actually buy anything.”

  5. Bill Jackson

    Have you ever heard the whining, crying and gnashing of teeth that ensues when they try to raise direct mail fees. As prices go up, volume falls quickly, and that lost volume has never returned.
    In fact there is a broad decline in all types of mailed printed matter. It turns out it is far far cheaper to e-mail it than to mail it, with savings on printing as well as mailing costs.

    They are losing on all fronts, first class mail, junk mail and parcel delivery. When will it break???

    The correct solution is politically unpalatable, so the losses continue…

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