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Legal to Force a Log-In to Unsubscribe from Email Lists?

By Deanne Katz, Esq. | Last updated on

Every morning people wake up and check their email inboxes to find a slew of emails that they don't really want. But companies don't really want them to unsubscribe from all those messages.

Some organizations, including LinkedIn, require email recipients to log in before they can unsubscribe or change their email preferences. It seems like a smart way to make sure that clients have to consider for a minute if they don't want the emails.

But that kind of policy could backfire given FTC regulations on opt-outs.

The FTC's control over consumer protection extends to email communications with consumers. For clients who want to opt-out of corporate emails, the FTC provides guidelines about how the process should work.

The goal is to make it easy for users to unsubscribe. The regulations on that are part of the CAN-SPAM Act.

As part of the Act companies cannot require the recipient to give any personally identifying information beyond an email address, reports Ars Technica. They also can't make users visit more than a single page before honoring the opt-out request.

That information is mirrored on the FTC's notice to businesses. But it's not clear how they're enforcing it.

While LinkedIn requires users to provide a password before changing email preferences, they believe their policies are legal, according to a company rep.

The FTC appears unwilling to pin down what activities are or aren't within the regulations. While Ars Technica reporter Casey Johnston tried to pin down an FTC rep on what kinds of policies are accepted, the agency refused to commit. The rep declined to endorse certain methods for honoring an opt-out request.

That doesn't mean the FTC can't punish companies that require users to log in before unsubscribing. The practice does appear to require more personal information than just an email address and if users complain it could lead to a hearing.

Easily unsubscribing from unwanted emails isn't something that's often included in online privacy but it is something to take seriously. What's your policy?

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