Will Unsubscribe Stop The Spam Deluge?

By | June 4, 2004

Here’s some good news about spam: Unsubscribe really works.

At least, that’s according to anti-spam product manufacturer Lashback which according to thespamweblog says in a recent study that ”85% or more of unsubscribe links actually work”. But does this mean, as Anne Mitchell of spamweblog puts it, that ”given that eight-five percent or more of the links are actually functional links, it seems that the time has come to try to retrain users to use the unsubscribe link, at least for email (or even spam) from legitimate companies”?

I’m not so sure. The spamweblog article offered no link, so the only reference I can find to this is in a piece posted the same day on Government Computer News, which quotes Lashback president W. Brandon Phillips as saying that 10 to 15 percent of unsubscribe links are not trustworthy. The article quotes him as saying that “a lot of people are trying to do it right”.

But what the spamweblog doesn’t cite is Phillips’ concluding quote, recommending users against clicking on the unsubscribe link: “It’s not odds I’d like to take,” he says. That’s because the 10 to 15 percent who are abusing the link often are the most obnoxious spammers. “These are people who are not even trying to play by the rules,” he says.

So what do we do? OK, Lashback sells a service which probes the unsubscribe feature to test whether it’s genuine or not, so they may not be the best arbiter of this. But their most recent press release, issued on April 2, puts this into perspective: Over 90% of spam doesn’t offer a working unsubscribe mechanism. In other words, the 85% working unsubscribe links represents 85% of less than 10% of the spam you’re getting.

Bottom line: It’s good that some spammers are following the rules. But unsubscribe is not going to stop the spam deluge.