Jane! Stop this crazy thing!


One of the consequences of moving to Ireland is I’m unsubscribing from most commercial mail, including some lists I’ve been on for a decade or more. Sadly, many of the companies don’t ship to Ireland, or their shipping costs are prohibitively expensive. Even if I wanted to purchase from them, I couldn’t.

This process has made me realise how horrible many company’s unsubscribe processes are. Look, I get it, having people leave your list is no fun. Losing subscribers is not what we’re in this for. But, sometimes, sometimes you just have to let them go. But there are senders out there that continue to mail me after I have unsubscribed.

In one case, every time I unsubscribe I get a note “you’ve been unsubscribed from company <list name>.” There is no option available for me to unsubscribe from all company publications. At this point I’ve submitted at least 3 separate unsubscribe requests, and the company is still mailing me. This is, in fact, a CAN SPAM violation.

In both the original law and the rulemaking from the FTC opt out requests are to the “sender” of the commercial email message. We can rules lawyer about how different divisions of a company may be different senders, or how different messages are coming from different people inside the company. In this case, though, the email address in the From: line of the message is identical. They aren’t different “senders” they’re the exact same sender.

The DMA fought long and hard to make sure CAN SPAM was an opt-out law. They argued that every company should have  the opportunity to try and sell consumers something. “We call it the ‘one bite at the apple’ rule,” [Patricia Faley of the Direct Marketing Association] says. “Give me one chance to show you what I have to offer you, and if you don’t like it, then I won’t contact you again.”(Congress has hard time stomaching e-mail spam).  Unfortunately, all too many companies forget the won’t contact you again piece.

In fact, just yesterday I received email from the DMA of Northern California that was in blatant violation of their one-bite rule and CAN SPAM. They got the address from me because I spoke on a panel at a meeting back in 2002 or 2003. I never actually opted in, but as part of the event they required every attendee to give them a business card. After I got the first message I unsubscribed. Yes, the unsubscribe request was more than 15 years ago. That doesn’t make it invalid.

Worse for the DMA, the address is now a spamtrap. Knowing who was at the meeting with me, that wasn’t the only address turned into a spamtrap.

If someone goes through the trouble to opt out of your mail, listen to them. Respect their no. Senders who don’t create a preference center need to accept that when a recipient opts out of one email, then the recipient has opted out of all emails. Sure, if you have a preference center, they can pick and choose and maybe they will want to stay on the recipe list without staying on the sales list. But lacking that facility unsubscribe means unsubscribe from everything.

Likewise, opt-outs don’t expire! If someone says to stop mailing them and don’t contact them again, you stop mailing them and don’t contact them again. The DMA should know better. They’re supposed to be industry leaders in best practices. Unfortunately, they failed.

Email only works because senders respect recipients. Both of these examples show marketers that haven’t bothered to actually consider their recipients. You can’t respect someone you haven’t even thought about.

About the author


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Well, since you are moving to a EU member, you will get to enjoy the protection of the GDPR, and can see if its enforcement has any more teeth.

  • There’s a lot of this bad behavior on the part of senders, yes. I’ve experienced not only what’s referred to in this post, but also things like emails that have no unsubscribe link at all.

    But as someone on the other end – running a list – I also see a lot of users who are livid at us for things we can’t control. For example, Gmail users don’t realize that they can put a period – or not – anywhere in their username. Sometimes someone who normally uses a period (jane.doe@gmail) might forget it (janedoe@gmail) creating two email subscriptions on the list. They unsubscribe one, and still get emails, and then are mad at us about it, threatening lawsuits and anything else they can think of to “scare” us into removing them when our unsub page “obviously doesn’t work.”

    Or howabout the folks who unsubscribe and then repeatedly rejoin the list by signing themselves up again? For example, they unsubscribe themselves and then see something on the site they want to sign up for, so they add their information. They get an email the next day and send a furious email saying they’ve unsubscribed and asking why they are still getting emails. When we tell them they resubscribed themselves in one way or another, they’re flabbergasted their original unsubscribe didn’t “protect them” from future emails.

    Another one I love is when people say that we’ve “bought” their work email address and are “preloading it in the dropdown box” on the site. Except, whoops, we don’t have autofill on our forms, so that’s their browser’s native autopopulate feature showing them things they’ve entered into forms elsewhere.

  • There are issues with resubscriptions, but much of the problem is a lack of clarity. Your (former) subscribers expect that their “unsubscribe” is permanent, even if they give you an address again. You believe if anyone gives you an email, they are asking to resubscribe to your list.

    Why not make it clear when you’re collecting the data what you’re going to do with it?

    There’s the flip side, too, going to a website and they ask me to opt-in or opt-out but they don’t tell me what happens when I am already subscribed.

    I understand challenges related to information on websites, but this is something you, as the data collector / controller can clarify and reduce the number of angry recipients.

By laura

Recent Posts


Follow Us