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Like all of us (probably), I am pestered by loads of academic spam, inviting me to submit something to a junk conference or journal or participate in some irrelevant course. I delete this spam quickly, but sometimes I notice an option to unsubscribe from this mail.

I wonder, is it a good idea to use this function in general? Does someone have the experience of getting less mail after unsubscribing from a couple of spam e-mails? The reason I'm wary is that this interaction lets the senders know that my account is in fact active, which might trigger even more spam.

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 12:11
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    @AnonymousPhysicist that is hilarious!
    – And
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 12:32
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    I am eternally grateful that my lab has a fabulous spam ID system - I see almost none of this stuff. When I do I flag it as spam and never see anything else from there again.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 13:50
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    @AnonymousPhysicist disappointing that the authors didn't think it was worth the $150 to publish
    – Jojo
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 14:11
  • @Joe Well, paying that APC would mean directly funding the operation of a predatory journal, which some may view a bit too immoral to do just for fun.
    – TooTea
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 18:53

5 Answers 5

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I used to believe what @Buffy said: That spammers will not honor unsubscribe requests. Eventually, I tried it and found that many of them do honor unsubscribe requests. That surprised me.

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    This is interesting. People have been saying for many years that there is no point trying to unsubscribe from spam, or that it makes things worse. Are you talking about just academic spam, or spam in general? Among junk academic publishers, can you tell us any specific examples who honored your unsubscribe requests?
    – gib
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 12:33
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    Not that you probably would have much success, but you could sue them if your request to be taken of their list istn't honored. At least according to the laws some countries (in the EU at least).
    – Sursula
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 14:33
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    @gib This answer only relates to academic spam. Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 17:24
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    Google supports "automatic unsubscribe" where they generate an unsubscribe request. Possibly emailers who continue to send after that get punished by google spam filters badly enough that people obey unsubscribe requests?
    – Yakk
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 15:26
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    Corporate Spam (aka without active criminal intent) meant for European consumers is usually quite good because the EU started cracking down hard
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 19:24
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I don't have evidence for my method other than personal experience. However, I take a per-message approach to unsubscribing.

In the US, the spam I get usually comes from two sources.

  1. Spam from "legitimate" commercial vendors who have scraped my email from the university's website or bought it from professional organizations. Many of these are managed by major spam email companies like Constant Contact or Mailchimp. You can identify these from their "privacy" notices in the footer.

    I unsubscribe from these. The reasoning is that these entities are "legitimate" and so to avoid raising the attention of government regulators, they will comply (after all the US Federal Trade Commission requires you to have an unsubscribe functionality). The spammers are too unsophisticated to add you back to the list systematically.

  2. Spam from "journals" and "conferences" that are mostly scams. These are generally run by small operations like the ones you'll see spamming Stack Exchange. They are too small and in jurisdictions that make it too difficult for government enforcement actions. You should avoid interacting with these emails in any way. Block sender, mark as junk, move on.

In sum, unsubscribe from spam you receive from a major email marketing platforms but ignore scam spam from smaller operations.

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    I don't necessarily think it's a Domestic/International distinction, but there are certainly two different types of "spam": (1) "Unsolicited Commercial Email" sent by (mostly) legitimate companies attempting to wrangle your business and (2) scammers attempting a con job. Legitimate businesses (wherever they're located) will (mostly) honor an unsubscribe address, whereas scammers (wherever they're located) don't care.
    – R.M.
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 21:28
  • I think there's a grey area between the two, for example companies selling quack medical remedies or fake news full of click-bait. Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 17:45
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Yes

I can think of three reasons not to unsubscribe. The first is that it takes effort. If you believe that the effort it takes to unsubscribe is greater than the effort to delete all future academic spam, then sure, don't unsubscribe - it's your call.

The second reason is if the spammer actually is malicious and is attempting to phish for information. This is what things like Mimecast is for, which I'm not an expert on, but presumably your email service provider will already have some kind of defense in place. I would trust them to work. If the service provider flags the unsubscribe link as dangerous, then I would not unsubscribe.

The last reason is that you allegedly tell the spammers that your email is being monitored and read. But if you are an academic, then your email is already known to be monitored and read (a lot of your published papers will have it, it's available on your department's website, etc.). It's probable that the entity sending the emails got your email from such avenues in the first place. You can't both publicize your work and avoid revealing your email address without going to extreme lengths, so not unsubscribing doesn't actually do anything.

A final point is that if you don't tell the entity that is sending the emails that you don't want to receive them, you can't really fault them for continuing to send it. E.g. I've gotten emails ("spam") about open research/faculty positions that I am overwhelmingly unlikely to be interested in owing to personal circumstances, but I can hardly blame the sender for not knowing those personal circumstances. If I unsubscribe and they continue to send those emails, then they should know better, and it's a different matter.

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    Very skeptical about Mimecast. Would definitely not trust their system to protect me.
    – Nobody
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 10:30
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I generally don't unsubscribe since it only verifies that you look at their mail and they have a valid email address. Instead, if possible, have your email client send such things to junk when you see them. Some mailers "learn" from these actions and send future mailings from that source automatically to the junk folder. Some other systems let you specify sender addresses that should be shunted to junk.

I'm not convinced that spammers will even honor unsubscribe requests. They aren't noted for their ethical principles.

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    My thoughts is that even if the scammers aren’t noted for their ethical principles, it may well be that sending mail has a cost; if you unsubscribe, they might consider you as less likely to fall in their trap, hence they might stop mailing you in order to focus on other targets.
    – Plop
    Commented Sep 6, 2023 at 21:50
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    @Plop I did a quick search on commercial bulk mailers, and the price per email I get is about 0.05 cents / email. That is, a hundred emails will cost you 5 cents. There isn't a strong financial incentive to cull their database.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 11:18
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    @Davidmh But how many people click on the link or reply, and how many of those end up buying the product? These need to be taken into account as well.
    – gib
    Commented Sep 7, 2023 at 14:04
  • @gib it depends, can you remove an email for less than a cent? Even if there is a 0.1% chance that they will buy your "services", and in the absence of regulations and a reputation to keep, there is no incentive to remove it.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 19:19
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I agree with most answers here that there are arguments in favor of unsubscribing and against unsubscribing. Whatever you do, however, it's probably best to not click on any link inside the spam emails. Those links, including unsubscribe links, might redirect your browser to a malicious site. Such a site could be stealing information via phishing or distribute malware.

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