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A predator journal (Americal Journal of Applied Mathematics) regulary sends me mails about how I should submit to them or join the peer review. Recently I discovered there is a Unsubscribe link in the mail. Now I'm wondering if I should use it.

On one hand, if it works, great. On the other hand a general rule is not to reply to spam in any way. I can't say where I've heard that but that is my usual MO. But the predator journals are not a fake Nigerian prince, so I'm wondering if I should unsubscribe.

I am aware of the fact I can just mark these mail as spam or delete them automatically with a decent mail client. This alternative is known, but not part of the question. The question is if unsubscribing would be without negative consequences. Maybe someone had some experiences with SciencePG (the predator publisher) or similar groups.

EDIT: For future readers I would like to point out Nav's comment, which links here

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    I tend to unsubscribe, because you gotta give the predatory journals a chance to improve. What's the worst that can happen anyway - they spam me? They're already spamming me, so it doesn't seem like a big deal. That said, I'm not the most familiar with internet security, so if this is dangerous someone please point it out. – Allure Feb 20 at 9:29
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    Found it myself. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predatory_publishing Wow, yuck. – puppetsock Feb 20 at 14:39
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    @Allure They can spam you more, your mail address just got upgraded in worth for reselling and they can target you with phishing and other attacks because it may be worth the effort. The core decision point is whether the other side is a legitimate business that wants to care about their reputation or whether it is a scam anyway making money any way they can. In the latter case clicking the link may well have negative effects. – Frank Hopkins Feb 20 at 23:10
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    What I find surprising is that you appear to be targeted by only one predatory publisher. As soon as I had published my first paper (with my e-mail address on it), I started receiving mails by several ones. So, even if you successfully unsubscribe from one publisher, it may not make a difference in the long run, because others are going to find you. – Wrzlprmft Feb 21 at 9:04
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    Everyone: The unsubscribe option is unsafe: security.stackexchange.com/questions/92721/unsubscribe-safely/… – Nav Feb 21 at 15:45
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The problem is that unsubscribing to the e-mail list requires you to follow a link send to you in e-mail. As general rule this is already something that you should be hesitant to do, even with e-mails from reliable sources.

A predatory journal is not a reliable source of course. Even if the journal is not actively trying anything dubious with the link, a predatory journal is bound to be a small scale operation, meaning that they are more at risk of having their domain compromised in some way.

If you do decide to follow the link, please take standard precautions like copy-and-pasting the link rather than following it directly, and checking that the link actually leads to a domain controlled by the journal.

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    I'd be careful with risk attribution this way. Being small surely could mean they have worse security - or a dedicated hacker guy that knows what they are doing - but they are also much more likely to not attract any attention. Which "force" is stronger seems hard to estimate - unless you have some clear evidence / study, I'd not follow your argument. – Frank Hopkins Feb 20 at 23:12
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    You should add, he can open the link in a browser inside a virtual machine. – JNS Feb 21 at 17:42
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The question is if unsubscribing would be without negative consequences.

You can't know in advance, even if others have had positive experiences. Predatory journals aren't well-behaved. (I suggest automatic deletion.)

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    If you click the link, that puts your email in the "does exist indeed" list. – Perdi Estaquel Feb 21 at 3:34
  • @PerdiEstaquel Maybe, maybe not. That's a risk. – user2768 Feb 21 at 8:01
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    @Perdi: Seeing how "not receiving a mailer-daemon bounce-back" already puts your email in the "does exists indeed" list, I don't see why this is so important. At best it puts you in the "reads his spam" list, and I'd reckon that it also puts you on the "probably added these emails to their spam-filter list". – Ink blot Feb 21 at 16:17
  • @Inkblot Bouncing-back mail allows accounts to be identified, e.g., send email to abcdef@domain.com, get bounce; send email to target@domain.com, get bounce; send email to t.arget@domain.com, no bounce means the target has been identified. Disabling bouncing seems like a good thing – user2768 Feb 22 at 9:44
  • @user2768 Tell that to any academic IT guy ever, not to me. That being said, I do appreciate bounceback emails, especially when sending a mass email to registration lists (yes yes, in BCC), where you copy-paste from the email field of the form. It's a good way to spot who wrote their address with a typo. – Ink blot Feb 22 at 9:48
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The crucial point for that decision is how legitimate the journal is (or tries to be) and how much on the untrustworthy side where they try to make money any way they can it is.

If they try hard to appear trustworthy or they are honestly trying to set up a journal but are really bad at it, unsubscribing may well work and not have negative repercussions - obviously you are not the guy to fall for them and they might move on to other candidates. However, if they fall into the "general villain" category - making money any (illegitimate) way they can - then trying to unsubscribe might well not work or have other negative side effect. That could be you receiving more spam or being targeted for more elaborate phishing attempts as you have proven that the mail address is actively read by someone. No one can tell you for sure what will happen either way in general. It's always a probability game.

However, as mmeent points out: As always it is prudent to not just click on any link in a mail. Instead check where the link points, go to the main website and see if that is a website affiliated with that journal/publisher or a generic mailing list provider. If it is the first, just look on the website for an unsubscribe option or hand-type the url from the mail if you want to try to unsubscribe. If it is the latter, the same analysis that you just did for the publisher applies to the mailing list provider - is it legitimate or not. If you still want to unsubscribe look at their page for such an option or again make sure you actually end up on an address on their page when copying the link.

If there is a 3rd party mailing list provider involved that is legitimate and you consider the publisher so far in the villain area that you consider them criminal, reporting them to the mailing list provider might also be a way to shut their mails down...

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As a general rule, any time you respond to an email or click a link in it, you provide information to the sender. A distinct issue with "unsubscribe links", is that it provides feedback that you definitely read the email, making your address more valuable to unscrupulous senders.

If your goal is not to provide them information (it probably should be) and not bother seeing them, do not interact with the email(s), but segregate them based upon some filter into a different directory for later inspection/deletion.

I recommend this type of strategy for not just Journals, but all email.

EDIT: Unsubscribing safety is now well-covered in the Question!

EDIT: For future readers I would like to point out Nav's comment, which links here

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Your fear has some grounding, but is probably misplaced this time.

Some spam is really malicious, and is trying to feed you a virus, or phish you. However, most isn't, and is just trying to get you to spend money. Predatory Journals almost certainly fall into the latter category.

Most mailings come via an email mailing list service, such as mailchimp. Whilst the journal may not be reputable, the mailing list service probably is, and will honour the unsubscribe, and not do anything bad with your details (they may keep them on file on a suppression list to prevent you being resubscribed, or they may purge them completely).

So it's almost certainly OK to ubsubscribe.

  • As someone who believes that unsubscribing is something that is usually* worth trying, I can say wholeheartedly that the amount of academic spam (of this sort) is so diverse, that they change journal names and websites so much... I can't even measure the effect of the unsubscribe. – Ink blot Feb 21 at 16:15

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