I know that this is confusing, but it’s important to realize that there are emails that you can and should unsubscribe from, and emails that you absolutely should never, ever “unsubscribe” from.
I’ll explain why that is, and what the relatively simple rules turn out to be.
- Never “unsubscribe” from spam. It will only result in more spam.
- Unsubscribe from things you originally subscribed to, or for which there was a legitimate business relationship.
- Mark spam as spam. That’s all.
Don’t unsubscribe from spam
What you are getting is most likely spam. Spam is sent to random email addresses. You haven’t been “subscribed” at all. You’re just getting it like many people do: randomly.
This is important: since you haven’t subscribed, there’s nothing to unsubscribe from, even if there’s an “unsubscribe” link. Clicking on that unsubscribe link will not help. In fact, it’ll likely make matters worse.
You might be asking, “If I’m not subscribed, why is there an unsubscribe link?”
Simple: spammers lie.
Like I said, spam is sent out at random and to email addresses that are both legitimate and not. The act of clicking that “unsubscribe” link actually confirms to the spammer that your email address is a real, valid email address with a real person reading it.
From the spammer’s perspective, it allows them to say the equivalent of “We got us a live one!”
And once they know the email address is legitimate, they’ll start sending you MORE, not less, spam.
Thus this rule of thumb: “unsubscribing” from spam only gets you more spam.
Instead, click on the “This is Spam” button in your email program or interface to get the email out of your inbox and train that service as to what spam looks like. That helps the service automatically identify spam for you in the future, and is by far the safest, most effective approach to dealing with spam using tools you probably already have at your disposal.
Do unsubscribe from things you asked for
As a newsletter publisher myself, I do want to emphasize that when you’re ready to stop receiving a legitimate mailing, a mailing that you subscribed to, you do want to use the unsubscribe link.
Do not click “this is spam” for legitimate email. When you click on “this is spam” for legitimate email, it may actually cause other people — people who actually want it — to stop getting it.
With most modern email programs it’s safe to open messages, regardless of whether they’re spam or not. As long as your mail interface doesn’t display images by default (one of the ways that spammers can track you), there’s nothing wrong with taking a peek.
If the email is legitimate, then of course you’ll need to open the email to see and click on the legitimate unsubscribe link.
If you can tell that the email is spam, on the other hand, you don’t need to open it at all. You don’t want to click on any links within, so there’s no need. Mark it as spam and move on.
The simple rules
So, there are things you should unsubscribe from, and there are things you should never unsubscribe from.
The rules are simple:
- If you subscribed to a newsletter, clicked “yes, send me more info”, or have some kind of a business relationship with the entity sending you email (such as having purchased something from them in the past), then it’s probably legitimate mail, and you should use the unsubscribe link.
- If you’ve never heard of the sender and have no relationship with whatever is being promoted or discussed in the email, then it’s likely spam, and you should not use the unsubscribe link.
It’s unfortunate we even have to think about these things, but the fact is, spam continues to be a problem. Fortunately, a few moments of thought (“is this email legitimate?”) and the simple rules above should make it fairly clear on when it is and is not safe to unsubscribe.
For spam, look into any of a number of anti-spam solutions and/or filters provided by your email program or ISP.
And never use the “This is Spam” button on email you asked for.
Originally published as How Do I Unsubscribe from All These Unwanted Emails? on Ask Leo!
Leo Notenboom has been programming computers since 1976, and answering questions about them online since 2003. For more, see askleo.com.