Why LinkedIn's 'you must join to unsubscribe' is evil

August 5, 2014

Recently I got a '<X> would like to add you to their professional network' email message from LinkedIn (from what I'm certain is a spammer). I'm not a LinkedIn user, so in an excess of optimism I went to the 'unsubscribe' link in the email. And, well, let me quote my own Tweet summarizing things:

@thatcks: I see. To get LinkedIn to stop emailing me connection invitations, I have to actually join LinkedIn. That makes those emails clear spam.

Perhaps you think that this behavior on LinkedIn's part is relatively harmless and no big deal. After all, all I have to do is join, right?

There are two things that make this wrong and one thing that makes this actively evil. Let's cover the two things first. To start with, this is not actually an unsubscribe link. 'Unsubscribe' links that don't actually function are known by many names, including 'bait and switch'. They are never a friendly act; they demonstrate that the sender intends to throw obstacles in your way because they very much object to you unsubscribing and want to make it hard.

Beyond that, well, 'fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me'. Why should I believe or trust that LinkedIn will let me actually (permanently) unsubscribe if I sign up? They've already lied once; I'm sure they can find a way to lie again, either now or in the future when it's convenient to them. As above, they've already demonstrated that they are not actually interested in letting people unsubscribe.

But all of that pales next to the actively evil bit: to sign up for LinkedIn, I must agree to their Terms of Service. It is absolutely guaranteed that LinkedIn's ToS contains objectionable things that no one in their right mind would agree to if they had a choice, because essentially all terms of service for large websites contain such terms. And it's all but certain that agreeing to their ToS is a binding legal agreement. Evil things in Terms of Service are usually excused with the rubric 'well, if you don't like them don't use the service, it's being offered for free'. Here I have no interest in using the service, I just want to unsubscribe. Effectively LinkedIn is giving me no choice; it is agree or suffer their continued spam.

Fundamentally what has happened here is that LinkedIn has turned unsubscribing from a right into a privilege, extended on LinkedIn's terms and at their whims. I do not have the 'right' to unsubscribe from LinkedIn's email, or they would have just done so with no fuss or muss. Instead I have only the privilege to ask to (maybe) be unsubscribed, under whatever terms LinkedIn feels free to dictate.

This is no genuine unsubscribe option. This is a sham, and I hope that recent Canadian legislation winds up seeing LinkedIn called on this.

(Yes, yes, as evil goes it is very small evil on the global scale of things.)

Written on 05 August 2014.
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Last modified: Tue Aug 5 22:24:05 2014
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