Unsubscribing SPAM Is Harder, but Retailer Email Practices Generally Better, Audit Finds

From Privacy and Data Security Blog

By Jimmy H. Koo | December 6, 2017

Consumers often provide their private email addresses to businesses for a variety of reasons, including to receive newsletters, promotional discounts, and alerts on the latest products. However, these emails can quickly pile up and become a nuisance, clogging inboxes on a daily basis. Unfortunately, it is getting harder for consumers to find the link to unsubscribe to these emails, according to an audit by the Online Trust Alliance (OTA), industry self-regulatory non-profit group that counts Twitter Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Symantec Corp. among its supporters.

The OTA found that 76 percent of emails sent from retailers contained “clear and conspicuous unsubscribe links,” down from 81 percent in 2016 and 97 percent in 2015. Despite this decline in the ease of finding unsubscribe links, the OTA report found that overall, the “vast majority of top online retailers have embraced unsubscribe best practices that go beyond mere compliance and have shown improvement.”

The report gave nine companies perfect scores, meaning they adopted all of OTA’s email best practices, didn’t send unsubscribe confirmation email, and didn’t violate anti-spam laws in the U.S. and Canada. The companies are Blue Nile Inc., HSN Inc.’s Home Shopping Network, Lands’ End Inc., Musician’s Friend Inc., Sierra Trading Post Inc., Stitch Fix Inc., The Talbots Inc., Toys “R” Us Inc., and Walgreen Co.

In addition to analyzing whether companies have adopted best unsubscribe best practices, OTA looked at retailers’ efforts to prevent their emails from being impersonated or spoofed. The report found that almost half of retailers failed to encrypt web sessions to landing pages for consumer to unsubscribe from emails. “If these pages are not encrypted, consumers’ email addresses and other sensitive information can be passed in the clear, risking exposure,” it said.

Securing online transactions is becoming increasingly important for retailers as more people shop online rather than at brick-and-mortar stores. According to Bloomberg Technology, Cyber Monday spending in 2017 jumped to a record $6.59 billion, making it the “biggest U.S. online spending day ever.” 

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