To Unsubscribe or Not to Unsubscribe: That is the Question
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The question of whether or not to unsubscribe from unwanted email is a tricky one.

Traditionally, and certainly prior to 2004, the conventional wisdom among those in the know was that one should never unsubscribe from any unwanted email (spam) because all it did was help that nasty spammer to confirm that there was a warm body with a working pair of eyes at the receiving end of the email transaction.


With the enactment of the CAN-SPAM act, which went into effect at the beginning of this year, those sending bulk commercial email (such as to a mailing list) are required to do several things with respect to each and every email, among them being to include a functioning unsubscribe link or other unsubscribe mechanism, and to actually honor each unsubscribe request (within ten days, which is far too long a period of time in our opinion, but at least they have to honor it).

Still, we had trained a generation of email users to never hit ‘unsubscribe’, and to, instead, report any such unwanted email as ‘spam’.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of unwanted email which really isn’t spam. It’s email you may have requested at some point and no longer want to receive, or it’s email which perhaps you agreed to receive in order to gain access to a website or to receive a free service – but really you had your fingers crossed because everyone knows that nobody would really want that email. That sort of email.

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Now we have the new Renaissance email marketer, who is playing by the books, who may not only be CAN-SPAM compliant but going above and beyond the requirements of CAN-SPAM, maybe even using – gasp – confirmed opt-in. And they certainly have functioning unsubscribe links in all of their email – and they honor their unsubscribe requests. Really, they exist. We have even met a few of them.

According to a new study released this week by Lashback LLC of Millstodt, Missouri, creators of Lashback anti-spam software, at least 85% of all unsubscribe links actually work!

Hallelujah!

 

Of course, by our estimation, only about 5% of end-users bother to use those functioning unsubscribe links; the rest, if they take any action at all…you guessed it…report the email as spam.

Now, we are not suggesting that you unsubscribe from email which you never, ever requested, from a sender with whom you have no relationship whatsoever. That is the sort of email in which the unsubscribe link may more properly be called the “confirm a pulse in the recipient” link. No, we are talking about that sort of email described above – email you don’t want, but which doesn’t really come from out of the blue.

In that case, the polite thing to do is to unsubscribe. After all, if the senders are going to play by the rules, it’s only fair that we do too – otherwise what incentive do those senders have to do the right thing? Even ISPs are starting to realize this and get into the act – we know of more than a few ISPs which will take a spam complaint from a user and…click on the unsubscribe link for them (only, of course, if the sender is a legitimate sender known to the ISP).

So take care, and take a moment to determine from where that email comes. If it’s someone with whom you have any sort of relationship – any sort of legitimate company – give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume that they are in that 85%+ of senders who will actually honor that unsubscribe.

Of course, for the other sort – let ’em rip.

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10 thoughts on “To Unsubscribe or Not to Unsubscribe: That is the Question
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  1. I have been an email administrator for many years, and in my experience, unsubscribing from messages reduces the amount of spam received. The CAN-SPAM act does not require senders to have permission before sending messages, so you might get something from a legitimate company that you did not request. A lot of the spam being sent that have ways of unsubscribing actually honor the requests. The ones that look sleazy probably are. It isn’t really that hard to tell if it will work or not in most cases.

    I have done the unsubscribe thing on behalf of people who have left the company I work for, and even for people who report spam that they probably asked for and are too lazy to opt-out of themselves.

  2. In my book, never unsubscribe. If your spam is anything like the spam I am getting their email addresses do not exist anyway. The whole thing seems to me to be a waste of time, how could you buy from these people, not that you would, but how could you?

  3. IMHO, there is one way guaranteed to stop spam. We need to get the public to STOP BUYING THE CRAP IT ADVERTISES!

    Spam is so cheap to send, one paying customer covers the advertiser’s cost for millions of Emails. If we could just get everyone to ignore it, and not buy anything from the spammers, it really would go away. As soon as it is not profitable, it will cease to exist.

    We need a public service campaign that starts out “Let’s face it, 100% of the stuff offered by spam-mail is utter CRAP. There is no miracle weight loss formula. No herbal remedy is going to make this part longer or that part fuller.â€? Advocate that people make a simple personal rule “If it was advertised in an [unasked-for] Email, don’t buy it.” Period. Ever. If it really does sound like a product you can’t live without or it’s a great deal, search for it on Yahoo [or Google]. If the maker is actually trying to sell the product, they’ll have a web presence [and you can buy it there, rather than in reply to the spam mail].

    Spam exists because it works, simple as that. Some percentage of people “do” respond to spam offers, and that’s more than enough to keep the spammers in business.

    When you get spammail, just delete it. Don’t reply to be “removed” from their list. (It doesn’t work.) Don’t send back a fake “bounce” or “bad addressâ€? message. (It only helps spammers make their mailings more cost efficient.) In fact don’t do anything: Just delete the Email, preferably unread. That— and only that— ensures that the spammer has just wasted a little money on you.

    If enough people do this— if enough people force spammers to waste a little money— then the economics of spam will change, and it will no longer be lucrative. When spammers no longer can make easy money by spamming, they’ll stop and move on to the next scam.

    Good spam filters can help you sort the spam for easy deletion. Good legislation can help apply pressure to the spammers where they live. But the ultimate solution to spam is to make it unprofitable.

    Do your part to help drive the spammers out of business. Take the pledge: Never, ever, buy “anything” you see spamvertised!

  4. Some great discussions on this thread.

    I am the primary developer for LashBack and our system does exactly what this last post suggests.

    Our product integrates with Outlook and Outlook Express and provides a safe alternative to the delete key that will actually reduce the amount of spam you receive. When someone receives a spam email message, they can click the LashBack button rather than the delete key. This sends the email to our servers where we collect all the data about the message and send out a unique probe email address to the unsubscribe mechanism and wait and listen. If we start getting email to this address, we know the party is abusing the request. We will then make sure all other reports containing the same unsubscribe link or advertised domains are not processed for unsubscribe. If we do not get email to the probe after a waiting period, we automatically process the unsubscribe request for the reported email. Thus getting the good of part of unsubscribe without getting the bad.

    Because of the way the system works, our database is able to tell us what unsubscribe links are misused and what advertised domains are associated with these links. We have already met with the FTC in person and are working with them to provide data to them in a format that can be used for prosecution.

    In case you are interested in seeing some of our data, you can visit . We have a list of abused unsubscribe links here and the advertised domains associated with them.

    Eric Castelli
    LashBack LLC

  5. I’d like to see Aunty Spam (or someone) collect unsuscribe links, open a new e-mail account for each link, and see which ones create spam.
    example:
    domain: optinrealbig.net
    e-mail: optinrealbignet@theinternetpatrol.com

    unsuscribe when you never were suscribed in the first place…and with the spam rolls in, you could report them to the FTC.

  6. I do broadcast e-mailing to the members of our trade association. If I had $1 for every one of our members (particularly those on AOL) who mark our newsletters as SPAM because they didn’t bother to read it, or because they want to unsubscribe but can’t be bothered to click the link, I could retire.

    Surely, most of us are intelligent enough to know REAL spam from e-mail received from vendors we’re no longer interested in, and can make our choices accordingly?

    Getting our newsletters blacklisted because some users don’t “play by the rules” hurts our OTHER members more then it helps the lazy ones.

  7. I’ve actually been having a lot of success with this, since January I have been both at home and among those in my office, getting people to unsubscribe – it’s true, a lot of them don’t have the links, but so far the volume of unwanted mail is dropping quite a bit.

  8. My comment is regarding the Lashback survey?? My comment is B******T! Never ever try to unsubscribe, because you will be hit with at least 3 new spams…and that’s from personal experience.

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