What Part of “Unsubscribe” Do You Not Understand?

via What Part of “Unsubscribe” Do You Not Understand? | Consumer Watch, clarionledger.com, 4/16/2013.

When it comes to my daily email traffic, I consider myself to be a gardener of sorts. Every day, I plant, water and weed the constant stream of messages. But with four separate accounts to monitor, I find myself constantly “weeding” (looking for ways to decrease the messages I don’t want to get). There is a pretty good spam filter on most of my accounts, so I’m sure I don’t see a lot of the junk that would normally be coming in and clogging my inbox. Occasionally, one slips through and I do hear from my Dear Sister in Nigeria, begging me to help her hide her late husband’s estate from the vicious government (and it’s all totally legit, she reassures me); or from MyLife, telling me they have found somebody I randomly searched for two years ago; or from those wonderful folks in Missouri who want to make sure I know about their ironclad auto warranties.

So, when I saw the message today from Fast Company magazine urging me to reconsider my decision to re-up my subscription (it was free anyway), I looked for the “unsubscribe” link. There wasn’t one per se, but rather a link to “update your email preferences.” So I clicked on it. (Now, it’s important to remember that there are some pretty stiff laws that govern the sending of E-mail spam. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 went a long way towards helping customers get off the lists of legitimate companies. The vast majority of legitimate companies are very good about quickly honoring your requests to unsubscribe.)

Anyway, I digress. When I clicked on the link, it took me to Fast Company’s“Subscriber Customer Care”. On that page, I was asked to provide a new email address (the window was populated with my current address), then to answer two questions from the publisher, Mansueto Ventures LLC. Both asked me to respond “yes” or “no” to whether I wanted the company to send me email. To be fair, the “no” radio buttons were pre-checked. But here’s the deal: I wanted to unsubscribe, not answer more questions.

Another email, this one from AT&T about job listings (no, AT&T, although Tampa’s a nice town, I do not want to be a student intern there) also arrived in my inbox today. There was an unmistakable “unsubscribe here” link. I clicked on it, and was immediately rewarded with a website that said, “Unsubscribe successful.”

Now, the Federal Trade Commission (which enforces the CAN-SPAM Act) provides some guidance in its Implementation Guide for Businesses. Specifically, the document advises companies, “You can’t charge a fee, require the recipient to give you any personally identifying information beyond an email address, or make the recipient take any step other than sending a reply email or visiting a single page on an Internet website as a condition for honoring an opt-out request.”

Looking at my experience today, the publisher of Fast Company got so near the boundary line they were practically standing on it. Although it was all on one page, I did have to answer their questions. Unfortunately, there is currently no law requiring companies to provide an “instant unsubscribe” link, although thankfully those are becoming more and more common. The FTC remains noncommittal about howunsubscribe requests are handled. A complaint would at this point be superfluous; it was a little annoying, but not really worth a rant.

Now, there are two obvious questions: 1) Is it really a good idea to click the “unsubscribe” or “manage my preferences” links? and 2) Do they really take your name off the lists? In answer to question 1, it depends. Most experts agree that most companies that are interested in maintaining their reputations than scamming you are going to comply. However, we all know that there a lot of companies out there who are not. Bottom line on that one: exercise caution in clicking on any links in an unsolicited email. Keep in mind that scammers use the “phishing” technique to make you think an email is legitimate. So, if in doubt, just delete the email. If they send you messages every day, report it as spam to your Internet Service Provider, and use services like Outlook’s Rules. If you are getting too much email from a provider you know, clicking unsubscribe is probably OK.

In answer to question 2: Again, legitimate companies are going to comply with the law; others are not. So again, be careful. You’ve got a lot of tools at your disposal as an email user, so use them. After all, you should be the one to decide, not some spammer who sends out millions of emails every day; you can stop them entirely.Perhaps the best “unsubscribe” is really to never see the annoying messages at all.

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