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.)

Comments on this page:

By Ewen McNeill at 2014-08-06 01:22:39:

Also, FWIW, that sort of join-LinkedIn email solicitation (which gets sent multiple times, BTW -- off the top of my head 3 times over the course of a couple of weeks) appears to be triggered by people falling victim to LinkedIn's "upload your address book and see who you know" prompts (AFAICT from symptoms and general discussion, it emails every address it can't find on LinkedIn already). I know this because various people have just-for-them variations on my email address which I've then received LinkedIn email solicitations. (The most amusing was what I think was the receptionist for somewhere I did a night class once, a bunch of years back; the LinkedIn email came in a few months back.)

Facebook (and probably others) also seem to send solicitations like this, in some situations, but none so prolifically as LinkedIn.

I've never bothered to try unsubscribing to any of them; I have a personal rule only to unsubscribe to "legitimate" things (where, eg, I did previously use their service with that particular address and they've just randomly decided to ignore the "no thanks, I don't want the spam" choice; mostly those unsubscribes work). The rest I figure are better handled with spam filtering... Thanks for confirming that was a wise time saving on my part :-)


By yggdrasil at 2014-08-06 11:58:25:

Please someone explain to me how this is even legal? "You have no affiliation with us and never agreed to receiving emails from us, but if you want us to stop emailing you, you have to give us as much data about you as possible". Maybe I just don't know laws in North America, but this seems so obviously illegal I can't help but wonder.

One annoying part of this is that they are trying to collect e-mail addresses that were given to other people and link them back to you. So, if you have a work address W and private address P, and a friendly idiot F uploaded P to LinkedIn, then trying to unsubscribe will tell LinkedIn that W and P are for the same person. The only way to deal with these e-mails is to ignore them.

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