Do you get too many newsletters and other promotional emails? These emails aren’t technically “spam” — they’re from legitimate organizations. Thanks to the US CAN-SPAM act, every legitimate company offers a consistent way to unsubscribe from their newsletters.

The next time you want to stop receiving emails from a legitimate organization, don’t just click the “Spam” or “Trash” button. Unsubscribe from those emails to keep your inbox clean.

How to Unsubscribe

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Every legitimate email will have a visible unsubscribe mechanism, and this is usually a link at the bottom of the email. If you want to unsubscribe, scroll all the way down to the bottom and look for the “Unsubscribe” link. It’s often in fairly small text so you don’t notice it, but it should always be there. To speed things up, you can press Ctrl + F to bring up the search feature in your browser or email client and type “Unsubscribe” to search for it.

Click the link to unsubscribe from future communications from that website or business.  Yes, it really is just that simple — there’s almost always an Unsubscribe link. If there isn’t, there has to be an email address you can email to opt out, although this is now very uncommon.

Note that “transactional emails” — for example, a receipt for a product you just purchased online — don’t have to have an unsubscribe email.

The CAN-SPAM Act (and Similar Laws)

The US CAN-SPAM Act was signed into law in 2003. Under this law, the FTC enforces compliance with a few basic principles for commercial emails. Here are a few things the law requires:

  • All emails must contain a visible unsubscribe mechanism — this is most often a link, but can be an email address you have to send a request to.
  • The unsubscribe link can take you to a page where you can choose the types of emails you want to receive, but they can’t require you to visit more than one page to unsubscribe.
  • The unsubscribe process can’t charge a fee or ask for any personal information beyond your email address when you opt out.
  • Your request to opt out must be honored within 10 business days.
  • The email must contain a legitimate physical mailing address associated with the sender.
  • The “From” field must be accurate, and the “Subject” must be relevant and not deceptive.

The FCC has more information about this on their website. While this is a US law, other countries have similar laws. For example, Canada’s CASL anti-spam law also mandates an unsubscribe link in each commercial email. Europe has the similar EU Opt-In Directive.

This isn’t one of those laws that’s just on the books and never used. The FCC has enforced the law in the past. For example, in 2006, the Kodak Imaging Network was fined $32,000 for failing to include an unsubscribe mechanism and their physical address in an email campaign they sent out.

If a legitimate business emails you and fails to include a way for you to opt out of emails, you can actually report them to the FCC. This is why you’ll usually find such unsubscribe links!

But What About the Real Spammers?

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Bear in mind that this only applies to emails from legitimate organizations. For example, this includes newsletters from website you subscribe to (like our own How-To Geek newsletter), promotional emails from Groupon, or any other organization that’s received your email and your permission to market to you.

The CAN-SPAM Act helped clean up commercial emails sent by legitimate companies. But the real spammers are outside the reach of these laws.  Sure, you could report a serious scammer to the FCC for not including the required unsubscribe mechanism, but they’re probably sending emails from outside the US and countries with similar laws. It would also be hard to find these people, because the spam emails are probably coming from a botnet of compromised computers instead of a legitimate email server.

Luckily, modern email services like Gmail and have made great strides against this type of nasty spam, and it shouldn’t reach your inbox very often. If it does, just click the Spam button. But that Spam button should just be used for real spam — unsubscribe from the legitimate commercial emails you receive with their included Unsubscribe links. Just marking an email as spam won’t actually unsubscribe you from the mailing list.

Image Credit: Michael Hicks on Flickr, Gred Elin on Flickr

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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