Let me get off your *&%$ list

This is a plea to web designers, programmers and, most particularly, marketing people, to stop annoying us when we want to unsubscribe from your &^%$#@!* stupid, er, sorry, not interesting to us, email lists. It's also a plea for all of you IT people to talk to these groups in your company and convince them to do some "right thinking" about this issue.

Look guys, email on the Internet is over 40 years old (tip o' the hat to Ray Tomlinson), we're almost 20 years down the road from the release of the first graphical Web browser (hats off to Marc Andreessen), and it has been almost a decade since the CAN SPAM Act mandated, among other things, that all unsolicited commercial email should contain an unsubscribe link (tip o' the hat to George W. Bush for signing it into law).

Spammers in the slammer

Given that all of these aspects of the Internet are well-understood and that we all know how email and the Web work, why is unsubscribing from some random commercial list which some random company signed you up for such a laborious process?! Why, for that matter, is it often just as hard to unsubscribe from a commercial list that you like but no longer want to belong to?

A particular annoyance in the area of unwanted commercial subscriptions has been DCH Toyota in Oxnard, Calif. I gave them my email address when my son bought his truck a few years ago and every few months they forget that I have unsubscribed and resubscribe me. And to add insult to injury, their email pitches are always painfully lame and totally irrelevant to me. The last few times they've sent me junk email I've called up their "online manager" and complained, but for whatever reason they seem incapable of leaving me alone.

It would be far better if, after a company sent one commercial email message and didn't get a response, they would then leave you alone on the assumption that you most likely aren't interested. But alas, the commercial world apparently doesn't want to believe that.

Nope, they add you to their lists with wild abandon, then when you want to get them to stop sending you junk, they make you go to their site, enter your email address (which is annoying as you just clicked on a link that had your email address embedded), and then they offer you a list of subscription options and, in some cases, you have to uncheck all of them before you will be left alone.

Even more annoying are the commercial lists where you have to reply with "UNSUBSCRIBE" in the subject line. While that normally works fine, if you have messages forwarded from other mailboxes you often can't reply using the original address without jumping through various digital hoops.

Look, what we the people want is simple: In all commercial list messages sent to us, just include an obvious unsubscribe link (I hate having to hunt through thickets of tiny type for semi-hidden unsubscribe links) which, when we click on it, takes us to a page that says "You are unsubscribed. Click here if you don't really want to leave us" (this is much better strategy than asking us on the landing page to click to confirm we want to unsubscribe).

How to protect your privacy on Google

Now you, if you're on the sending rather than receiving side of these unwanted messages, you might be saying, "What's one more click? We'd rather be sure that you mean to unsubscribe," but if you're asking that, you so don't get it. That one extra click is annoying, distracts us just that little bit more from getting on with whatever we'd rather be doing, and makes us feel irritated with you ... and not liking you is definitely something you and your brand don't want.

Oh, and why do so many unsubscribe requests get a response such as, "Please allow up to 10 working days for your subscription to be terminated"? What does the list owner do, have unsubscribe requests sent to the list manager by snail?

I've been told this delay is because unsubscribes are batched and the list purge is only done a couple of times each month, but really? In this day and age you're doing simple things like updating lists in batches? Are you using punch cards too?

I think it's time for the CAN SPAM Act to be updated to require all list owners and bulk message senders to provide simple, clean Web-based unsubscribes that are effective within 24 hours. Email unsubscribes should, obviously, also be honored.

The problem is that, while a huge number of us are annoyed by this kind of clumsy handling of what should be a simple process, it is rarely so annoying that we do anything about it. We have other, better things to do rather than tell these folks how to behave so we won't find them annoying. It's like having itchy socks on but the itch is not so bad that you want to go to the trouble of taking off your shoes to scratch. You'll put up with the itch while you're busy but, one day, you'll get around to throwing those *&^%$#@! socks away.

So, dear commercial list owner, do you want to one day become a thrown-away sock?

Send Gibbs your unlisted thoughts at backspin@gibbs.com and follow him on Twitter (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater).

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