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Retyping your email to unsubscribe is an unnecessary barrier to being removed from an email list. With today's technology, it should not be required.

Are unsubscribe links that require you to type in your email address a scam? I feel much more comfortable when they collect your address and it's already filled in unsubscribe link but when there's hardly anything on the screen except a place to type your email address, it makes me wonder. As soon as, I filled one in and clicked on unsubscribed, I received another similar email representing a different product.

In this excerpt from Answercast #81, I look at the problem of unsubscribe links that don't unsubscribe the user immediately.

Retyping an email to unsubscribe

Boy, you hit one of my pet peeves. There is no reason that an unsubscribe link should require you to type in your email address.

There's a semi-valid reason (or at least intent) for why they do this. They're trying to confirm that the person doing the unsubscribe is in fact the person that they sent the email to. In other words, it's not somebody else trying to unsubscribe them.

Unfortunately, it's a false sense of security. I mean, if they've got the unsubscribe link, they've probably got the email. At the top of that email is the "To" address that the email was sent to - and that's probably the email that they would have to retype quickly into the unsubscribe page.

It just doesn't seem like a hotbed of malicious activity either. People running around maliciously unsubscribing people from newsletter lists. It does bug me just like it bugs you.

Barrier to unsubscribing

There are, I believe, two less than honorable reasons that this might be in place.

One is it's a barrier to unsubscribing. I mean, ultimately, newsletter lists want subscribers. They want you to stay subscribed for whatever reason.

Maybe they want their subscriber count to be high. They may want to be able to sell you stuff. They may want to be able to contact you directly - whatever their reason. And this little bump in the road as you unsubscribe actually causes some people not to... they'll actually not complete the unsubscribe action.

That's wrong. If somebody wants to unsubscribe, they should be unsubscribed immediately and I'll get to the immediately part in a minute too.

That's what I believe is by far the most common reason for this and I know of no way around it. I really don't. The only thing to do is to follow through with your unsubscribe action and then, if you continue to get email from the same people, mark that as spam.

Probably not malicious

Now, as for your concern that it is somehow malicious, I've never seen that. In fact, I've never even actually heard of this. If you're clicking on an email that you did subscribe to and it's an unsubscribe link in that email that you did subscribe to, then it's highly unlikely that there's anything malicious in terms of spam-generating at the back-end.

Typing in your email address is just what they require for whatever the reasons - and I do it.

I mean, when I'm faced with this, I actually grumble but I do it - and I get unsubscribed.

Immediate unsubscribe

Now, I also mentioned "immediately." This is my other pet peeve.

It has nothing to do with your question, but I'm on a roll! When you unsubscribe, there is no technical reason that it should be anything other than instantaneous. So when I get a message that says, "Oh, thanks for unsubscribing, sorry to see you go - and by the way this might take five, 10, or 15 days to take effect," that's just wrong.

There is no reason for that. With today's technologies and today's connectivity, there is no reason that an unsubscribe shouldn't be instantaneous.

In fact, depending on how I'm feeling about that particular company, if I unsubscribe and I continue to get emails for those five, 10 or 15 days... you know what I'm doing? I'm marking them as spam. I've said, "I don't want this;" anything that comes in contradiction to that - is spam, almost by definition.

So, I don't know that anybody who really has impact in this scenario is listening to this... but if you've got an unsubscribe link to a newsletter, or to something you're providing, do it instantaneously, or switch to a provider that will do it instantaneously.

When you unsubscribe from my Ask Leo! newsletter, guess what? It's immediate! And there's no reason that it shouldn't be.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Next from Answercast 81 - Can a router be infected with malware?

Article C6172 - December 24, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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7 Comments
Nicholas J Gimbrone
December 25, 2012 9:04 AM

A reason for it to sometimes not be "right now" is that sometimes a person is involved in the process. For instance, sometimes the process requires a confirmation email sent to the unsubscribed address to be acted upon (the unsubscriber becomes a source of delay, as does the email path to them). This (for instance) attempts (successfully or not) to reduce the risk of malicious 3rd party unsubscribes.

I fully expect that what you say is in some cases true. My point is that type of approach is outdated, ineffective, and there's simply no reason for it to continie
Leo
25-Dec-2012

Texas Mike
December 25, 2012 11:35 AM

And I'm still receiving email from some that I've unsubscribed YEARS ago. I'm not talking about newsletters. I mean [otherwise] legitimate companies that do global business. I won't specify the companies. The worst culprits are print magazine subscriptions that I no longer get and they just won't take NO for an answer. I've had to re-SPAM them for not getting the message. But then, it's those same companies that send renewal notices every month even if you renewed just last month for the next 5 years.

James
December 25, 2012 5:35 PM

I only unsubscribe when I subscribed in the first place.

When I get an unsolicited email/newsletter that says at the bottom, "You are subscribed. To unsubscribe, click here," I always ignore those and mark as spam. Because that's what they really are: spam.

I generally find that most of the things that I subscribed to are easy to unsubscribe because they are legitimate.

Dave
December 25, 2012 9:36 PM

Whenever they have my email addy on the page. I simply copy & paste.

I had a bad issue with an eBay seller spamming me. The only email address they gave for contact?

Opt-in@xxxxxx.com of course.

Mark M
December 25, 2012 11:51 PM

Whenever I subscribe to anything I use a web based email address (except ask-leo of course). That way I don't care how many spams they send. I only have to check the most recent ones once in a while when I need something, like an activation code or whatever. The "select all" and "delete" buttons are particularly useful in those email accounts.

Ken B
December 27, 2012 10:05 AM

Well, a pet peeve of mine is unsubscribe links that *do* immediately unsubscribe you if you click the link. There have been times when I've accidentally clicked the wrong link at the bottom of an e-mail. Now, while I don't think I've ever seen a "type your e-mail address to confirm the unsubscribe" (especially problematic when you use multiple addresses, and you address is hidden in the e-mail), I do prefer those links that just require a simple "confirm that you want to unsubscribe" action, such as selecting a checkbox and clicking "confirm".

Theo
January 7, 2013 12:52 AM

I run a website which includes a newsletter, and if you want to unsubscribe, you have to fill in your email address. Why? Simple:

1) The newsletter is sent in bulk. Adding a user-specific unsubscribe link would require the newsletter to be sent to each subscriber separately, which is inefficient. Sending it in bulk (many reciepients at once) is more efficient, but has the side-effect that no specific link can be included.
2) The unsubscribe page is public. It can be easily found when surfing the site. You don't need an issue of the newsletter to unsubscribe, you can simply go to the site and navigate to the unsubscribe page (btw, a link to this page is included in the newsletter also). But then I need to know WHO wants to unsubscribe! So I need the email address...

Now, to avoid the mentioned practice of maliciously unsubscribing others, when you fill in your email address to unsibscribe, an email is sent to that address and THAT contains the actual unsubscribe link which must be followed to confirm the unsubscription...

Works like a charm without complaints from the users.

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