Is unsubscribing from spam enough?

Is unsubscribing from spam enough?

Summary: How do we get on those spam lists anyway? And if our names are being bought and sold, shouldn't we get a cut? Finally, should legislation have gone further by allowing spam recipients to do more than just unsubsribe to bulk e-mail they don't want?

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TOPICS: Collaboration
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Speaking of spam, I received a note this morning from another bulk e-mailer -- one called NewSource -- that apparently e-mails newsletters to journalists once a month.  The organization appears to play by the Can Spam rules, giving me a way to unsubscribe from the organization's e-mail list while also providing contact names, snail-mail addresses, and phone numbers.  This morning, as I followed the unsubscribe links, they raised a question in my mind as to whether an unsubscribe utility is enough.  When I clicked on the unsubscribe links in the e-mail, I was taken to a page that said "Welcome David Berlind, Below, you can remove yourself from future mailings and are able to change your contact information. If you unsubscribe, you will no longer receive email communication from us."  It then told me I was subscribed to two lists: "Adnet1" (with the word "Ad" in it, that sounds fishy) and "Whalibm1".  What these lists are, I have no idea.  Nor was any additional information provided.

I immediately unchecked them to indicate that I no longer wanted to get them in my inbox.  I was then taken to a new page that confirmed that I had been removed from "all" mailing lists.  But then, it gave me a place to click if I wanted to review my settings. In other words, I was able to take myself off those mailing lists, but not out of NewSource's database altogether.  NewSource was still keeping an active record under my name which raises another obvious question: If I ended up on those two mailing lists without subscribing in the first place, now that I can't remove their record of me  from their systems, what will prevent me from being involuntarily subscribed again?  Shouldn't I be able to remove myself from the company's database altogether?

To get an answer, I called the person whose name -- Craig King -- and number were listed on the e-mail.  I asked King a lot of questions.  For example, how did I get on list in the first place?  From another list, he told me (if my name is being bought and sold, shouldn't I get a cut?).   Then I asked him what those two e-mail lists were (Adnet1 and Whalibm1).   King didn't know.  "The only one I know about," King told me, "is our NewSource newsletter.  I don't know what those ones are."  This raised a whole bunch of other questions.  For example, why is his name and number listed as the contact  if he can't answer these simple questions? Worse,  I just unsubscribed from two e-mail newsletters and neither of them are apparently the one that I wanted to unsubscribe from in the first place? Does this mean I'm still subscribed?  He didn't know.  He had no idea.  He said "I can have the IT guy get back to you."    The IT guy?  The IT guy doesn't make the business decisions I told him.  "Yeah, but  he'd know the answers."  This is when I thought that maybe the IT guy's contact info should be on the newsletter instead of King.'s.

My last question for King was, "You gave me a way to unsubscribe to those newsletters but how about a way to erase all traces of my being from your systems altogether?"  King's Answer?  "Again, I can have the IT guy get in touch with you."  

To me, this is an example of spam legislation gone awry.  It's wonderful that the law now requires all this contact information to show up on the e-mail.  But if that information is just going to lead us to another black hole (as opposed to the one we had to find on our own before such information was provided with "legal spam"), what good is the legislation?

Topic: Collaboration

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23 comments
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  • From us

    The beauty of this system is that every time you "unsubscribe" from one list, you confirm that you are a sucker who actually reads spam.

    Therefore, although you won't hear from [b]them[/b] again, you'll find that you start hearing from lots of others. Bet on it: a company that buys spam lists will also sell them.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Completely agree

      [b]Bet on it: a company that buys spam lists will also sell them.[/b]

      Just had to emphasize that :).
      CobraA1
    • Re: From us

      [i]Bet on it: a company that buys spam lists will also sell them.[/i]

      Absolutely. I tell my freinds who unsub this way, "All you did was take yourself off the penny a thousand list and put yourself on the nickel a thousand list."
      none none
  • Requirement for "opt-out" systems.

    You ask "Shouldn't I be able to remove myself from the company's database altogether?"

    If they not following a strict opt-in policy, to obey the CAN-SPAM Act, they *must* keep a record of your e-mail address now that you've choosen to opt-out to avoid adding it back to the list again. Otherwise you could end up on the list again in the same manner you ended up on it in the first place.
    mathandmetal
    • Excellent point. This is one of the two major reasons for optout.

      Direct marketers and contact info collectors don't want to have to get permission from you to present you their "valuable" offers. Secondly, they NEVER want to "have" to remove anybody's contact info from their databases. They are now legally obligated to keep your contact info permanently so you don't end up on the list again.

      It goes to show, all CAN-SPAM does is provide a set of guidelines for spammers to legally operate, which is what the direct marketers wanted in the first place. The status of the spammers who use hijacked PCs with forged headers and fake email addresses to send spam really has not changed.
      Taz_z
    • I'm not convinced they even care about the CAN-SPAM act

      "If they not following a strict opt-in policy, to obey the CAN-SPAM Act, they *must* keep a record of your e-mail address"

      I'm not convinced they even care about the CAN-SPAM act, much less try to follow it.
      CobraA1
  • Response merely validates your name, and marks you as easy prey.

    The "Can Spam" law was a spammer's dream come true. It does nothing to punish the criminals, and forces law-abiding citizens into a tough spot. You see, it's really quite simple. Responding to a spammer confirms (1) that your address is valid and (2) that you are foolish enough to read spam in the first place. As a result, you are flagged as an "easy mark" and your name will now be sold to even more unscrupulous persons for even more questionable uses.

    Can Spam therefore does not reduce spam, but merely helps the con-artists and boiler-room marketeers to better target easy prey.

    The only solution is individual empowerment. I use a combination of white-lists ( those I accept mail from ) and black-lists ( those I automatically refuse ). Anything not on one list or the other drops into a "suspect" directory, and I check it out at my leisure or when I need a laugh. Spam me once and you are black-listed permanently * forever * corporate whining not withstanding.

    As a final remark, I find it interesting that I have to complete an invasive login questionnaire and profile update every time I try to post a reply to a ZDNet story. It's ironic to read you complaining about being unable to delete database entries of your data residing on spammer's systems.

    Gee, I wonder : What does ZDNN do with all my information? Who do they sell it to? Spammer's perhaps?

    Perhaps before you complain, you should set your own house in order...

    Regards,
    Jon
    JonathonDoe
  • The best answer to spam right now is Microsoft ...

    The bottom line is that spam is fed by businesses legitimate and less than legitimate that ALL have a presence in Washington in terms of big money. And with that backdrop, the chances of effective legislation against spam are worse than nil. But of course there will be no end of Window dressing in an attempt by our public servants to endear themselves to the folks back home ("we're trying our best"). But the stark reality is that a legislative solution is hopeless.

    Spam is big business, very big business. And it will take another equally big business to bring it down. And that will not be through technology, spammers like virus writers and pirates will always find ways to circumvent or coopt emerging technology. It will more likely come as companies like Microsoft get desperate enough to identify these low-lifes through sheer power of what money can buy and confront them in the courts with an equally well funded legal effort. Once they sue a few of these operators into oblivian which has already started to happen, they will dry up the monetary attraction of spam and spam will cease. I, personally, saw the amount of incoming spam I receive decline precipitously when MS was successful in suing a big time spammer only weeks ago. I expect to see more of the same as more of these people are identified and pounded mercilessly in the courts. After all, once they have been dragged into court, what judge or jury would aquit these slime? Its like throwing mice into an enclosure full of hungry snakes. Spam has become one of our societies most notorious four letter words.
    George Mitchell
    • Re: The best answer to spam right now is Microsoft ...

      [i] It will more likely come as companies like Microsoft get desperate enough to identify these low-lifes through sheer power of what money can buy and confront them in the courts with an equally well funded legal effort.[/i]

      I wonder what business case the executives will make to the board.


      :)
      none none
  • You wasted your time, and your SPAM will get worse...

    Unless it's a bonifide company you do business with, that was the click of death.

    Better brush up your SPAM filter def's. You're gonna need them.
    BitTwiddler
    • Hee Hee Hee!

      Yeah -- clicking on the "Unsubscribe" button is kinda like trying to satisfy that never-ending curiosity...
      "Hmmm..I wonder what does THIS button does???"
      X Marks The Spot
  • Unsubscribing never has, and never will, work

    a) Unsubscribing from one list? No problem, they'll just subscribe you to others!

    b) Most spammers ignore the anti-spam rules and laws anyways.

    c) Much of spam is not real businesses. Many of them are scams, and are illegal anyways.
    CobraA1
    • Couldn't agree more...

      Every one of your points is right on the money! Especially (a) -- I mean, what better way to sucker someone into getting even more spam! It's kind of like drowning out the noise from a leaky faucet by turning on the radio and/or TV...
      As for (c) -- gotta love them illegal "pyramid" schemes!
      X Marks The Spot
  • Why are you so surprised?

    Every other company that I need to call has the standard script monkey answering the phone, why should this company be any different. A script monkey costs a lot less than some one that knows something and you speaking to someone that costs less frees up the person that costs more for things that are more important to their bottom line.

    It is not like I agree with the policy, it's more like I understand reality.
    balsover
  • You don't want to be taken out of their database!

    Then, you'll be back on their mailling list as soon as they buy your name from yet another source. You want to stay in their database and be marked as do not e-mail so that they're not allowed to e-mail you.
    mwaser
    • Agreed... Except...

      [b]Then, you'll be back on their mailling list as soon as they buy your name from yet another source. You want to stay in their database and be marked as do not e-mail so that they're not allowed to e-mail you.[/b]

      ... That's assuming that these people are honest about removing things and actually spend the time doing a merge/purge operation when they do get a new list.
      Wolfie2K3
  • Two Questions

    The best way to avoid getting spam is not to wind up on their mailing lists in the first place. At the office I have an extra level or two that helps reduce spam but at home I don't have all those protections, yet I am not bothered with a lot of spam (I might get a spam or two weekly but I always delete it without responding to it in any form). As so many have pointed out, unsubscribong just confirms your active e-mail address.

    But how do stay stay off a lot of mail-lists? Whenever I fill out information on a web page (such as requesting a newsletter or registering a purchased product, etc) I search the page until I find the two check-boxes that inevitably defaulted to 'Yes': "Do you want us to send you any additionsl information about our products or sevices?" And "Do you want to receive information about any similar prodect?" (or it's sometimes "Do you want us to give out your e-mail address so you can receive other offers?") They are usually located close to the bottom of the form where they are easily overlooked while trying to find the 'Submit' button.

    My three basic rules of avoiding spam:

    1. Becareful who you give your e-mail address to.
    2. Becareful filling out forms on the web.
    3. Don't unsubcribe, just delete it.

    I do have a blacklist, but it is not very long, that have been some that have made it through and I do move them to the list.

    Spam, for me anyway, is not that big a problem.
    papatator
    • Re: Two Questions

      [i]Whenever I fill out information on a web page ... I search the page until I find the two check-boxes that inevitably defaulted to 'Yes'...[/i]

      I do one better. I create an account on my mail server and fill in the site's email address form using dotted quad notation (usually, depending). Then I wait a minute and the link you have to click to "complete the registration" appears in the account's inbox. Then I click the link. Then I delete the account.

      I hope that if I ever (am drunk enough to) click on an unsub link, the greeting also would be "Hello Mr. Berlind" cuz it won't be my name!





      :)
      none none
    • Couple Other Don'ts

      1. clear pixels also allow spammers to id who's reading their e-mail. i never read e-mail in html.

      2. don't be a part of the chain-e-mail craziness. no matter how heart-tugging the story about our wonderful troops in iraq might be, many of these are used as covers by spammers, and others who are trying to pass viruses and trojans around.

      mark d.
      markdoiron
  • Disposable email account

    Good idea at: www.mailinator.com
    jtsdata9