Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Unsubscribing hell...

For some unfathomable reason I decided today to try to unsubscribe to some of the various spam messages I get from reputable companies. I would never try to unsubscribe to the umpteen million messages I get about body parts enlargement (some of which wouldn't look so hot on my if they were enlarged) or performance enhancement as the act of unsubscribing just confirms that they have a real person on the other end of the email line.

So, for reputable companies in the US, they are required by the CAN-SPAM act of 2003 to have an opt out method in each email. From the FTC's web site:

It requires that your email give recipients an opt-out method. You must provide a return email address or another Internet-based response mechanism that allows a recipient to ask you not to send future email messages to that email address, and you must honor the requests. You may create a "menu" of choices to allow a recipient to opt out of certain types of messages, but you must include the option to end any commercial messages from the sender.

Any opt-out mechanism you offer must be able to process opt-out requests for at least 30 days after you send your commercial email. When you receive an opt-out request, the law gives you 10 business days to stop sending email to the requestor's email address. You cannot help another entity send email to that address, or have another entity send email on your behalf to that address. Finally, it's illegal for you to sell or transfer the email addresses of people who choose not to receive your email, even in the form of a mailing list, unless you transfer the addresses so another entity can comply with the law.

So, I took a look at several of my emails... The emails from Lands End, Sears,, American Express and Apple all had links and they all worked as one would expect. The either directly unsubscribed you or brought you to a page that gave you a few options (different kinds of emails, change email address, etc.) and one or two clicks and you were done.

Microsoft, on the other hand, was a true royal pain in the *ss. I received an email from them that included the unsubscribe link at the top:

And another at the bottom:

So one would think that it's all kosher. That clicking on the link would get you unsubscribed. However, that wasn't to be the case. What you got when you used that link was a page which said that I had to use my Windows Live ID to manage my settings and that if I didn't have one, I would have to create a Windows Live ID account in order to manage my subscriptions.

So you can't just unsubscribe. You have to create an account on some Microsoft server.

Being the persistent one, I went ahead and did so. That required that I provide an email address and also required out-of-band email validation (where they send you an email that has a link you have to click on to prove that you actually have that email address.

Did that and got logged into Windows Live. However, all the stuff about managing my subscription was gone and there were no clear links on the page that would get me there. So I went back to the email that started this and selected the unsubscribe link again.

This brought me to the "Profile Center" where there was a link for manage subscriptions. I thought I was getting close, but no, there was another roadblock that they threw up. There was no email address in there (they didn't take the one I entered for my Windows Live ID account). So I had to enter it again. And, of course, before I could manage it I had to go through the email validation again.

Then back to the profile page and back to managing subscriptions where I could finally unsubscribe. Now I'm stuck with a Windows Live ID account that I don't want but I don't see any easy way to get rid of it.

I think this rigmarole they have set up is in clear violation of the spirit and intent of the CAN SPAM laws and should be fixed. I should be able to unsubscribe easily without having to create an account. I should be able to unsubscribe with a minimal of effort.

Kudos to Apple, Sears, and all the rest who, IMHO, got it right. Daggers to Microsoft who clearly got it totally and inexcusably wrong.

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