Walsh’s Wonderings — Unsubscribing

Robert F. Walsh

Somewhere along the line, the business world discovered it could make a lot more money if it stopped selling us things it could rent to us instead. Rather than offering tax preparation software for 80 bucks, they could sell “licenses” that automatically renew the next year if we don’t opt out by a certain date. In other words, they already have their hands in our pockets for next year before we even open the product to see if we need it.

It’s as if the business world suddenly discovered we’ve been paying for a gym membership we never use because we keep forgetting we have it … and applying that to everything!

That initial, low-price offering becomes a trojan horse. It’s the online equivalent of the drug dealer hanging out at the playground: “The first hit is free, my friend.” After that trial subscription ends, we’re automatically renewed at a much higher price. Before we know it, we’re hooked.

My mom’s in so many free trials you’d think she was a public defender. It’s become a full-time job to cancel the recurring orders of pills, books, and magazines that blight her mailbox as a result.

The process of unsubscribing is designed to be burdensome. Like spam, many subscriptions offer a helpful “Unsubscribe” link at the very bottom of their email (hint: it’s in the same fine print where they describe all the ways their product might cause blindness or death). However, the process is never as simple as a click of the button.

Not every Unsubscribe button is monitored by crooks, just as not every person holding a knife and dressed as a clown at midnight is necessarily out to attack anyone. Still, it’s best to avoid both.

For instance, clicking on the Unsubscribe link confirms that not only is your email address valid, it’s also actively used. It’s that first bite fishermen feel pulling on their line just before they reel it in. You’ll probably get even more emails as a result now that they know they have a live one on the line, especially when selling your information to others is so lucrative.

Even worse, the common request for a reply email with “unsubscribe” in the subject line will provide these people additional information, such as the route your email took when it was sent and the software used to send it. Spammers get even more information when they make you open a new browser window to unsubscribe: your computer’s operating system, your preferred choice of browser, and your IP address (which can reveal where you live). They can even leave cookies on your computer, a sneaky way to track your online activity. You just might be downloading malware on your computer that takes advantage of all that information you just provided.

Suddenly, the image of that knife-wielding midnight clown just got a lot clearer.

Instead of inviting the clowns into your life, it’s best to swim away from all those lines strangers cast your way. Mark anything you don’t want as spam; your email filtering will improve as your service learns what you want to ignore. Better yet, avoid subscription-based trials altogether.

Lastly, when employing analogies to make a point, choose between fishermen or clowns; using both is needlessly confusing.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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