A few weeks ago I tweeted something about how annoying I found the incessant emails from Linked In were.
I was hugely surprised by how widespread the hatred for them was. With things like that I don't expect most people to know what I'm talking about and of those that do, I don't expect many to share my frustrations.
But in this case they did. Nobody defended the site. Nobody told me that they found their emails helpful. And lots of people tweeted me to basically say, "Yes! If you ever find out how to make them stop, please let me know how you did it!"
Well I have made them stop... so I figured it was worth posting something here about it. As much as anything, it'll be easier to point people here in future than it will to explain afresh each time.
The first thing to say is that I don't really know what Linked In does but as far as I can tell it's meant to be a sort of facebook-for-work. My only encounter with them is as an unwanted presence in my inbox. They've been sending me emails... hundreds of emails, asking me to join the site for more than two years.
It looks like spam. It reads like spam. So surely it is spam? Apparently not. Linked In aren't fly-by-night shysters trying to hawk virility drugs, they're a hugely successful and seemingly respectable company. And technically - legally - it isn't spam.
Because technically the email doesn't come from Mr and Mrs Linked In any more than you'd identify an email from a hotmail address as coming from hotmail. Sort of. Because the emails would all come from the address email@example.com but the message would be telling you that a specific person had invited you to join their 'professional network.'
Linked In are simply the messengers. They're doing what they're customer asked them to do. They haven't bought your address from a corrupt data-miner. They don't even have your email address on file. They're emailing you because they were asked in the same way that the post office do the same with your mail. It's not for them to stop and ask people how they got your address... they just do what they're told to do.
Which sounds reasonable... except anecdotally I'm not sure that's how their users think it works. I think - and if you know differently do let me know - that things are a little less clear than that.
The impression I have is that when someone signs up to Linked In they get a message saying something like, 'Would you like us to connect you with your contacts?' A lot of people say yes because... well, because what's the point of joining a social network if you don't connect with your contacts? - and then the system does the rest.
But that's not quite what people imagine is going on. A couple of people I've spoken to thought that clicking that button meant that Linked In would search its existing customer base to see if any of their contacts were already there. They thought the only people who'd be contacted were other people who'd chosen to join Linked In already. They didn't know that Linked In would be sending emails on their behalf and they certainly didn't know that when those emails were ignored Linked In would start sending reminder emails to chivvy you along.
But of course your email address isn't only known to your friends and family. If you reply to someone they get your email address. Are we supposed to remain hermetically sealed in our own online worlds never responding to anything anyone sends our way for fear that they will inadvertently create social-network spam for us further down the line?
Wouldn't it be much easier if you could just ask Linked In - a nice big, respectable company - to stop emailing you no matter who clicks what? You'd think so wouldn't you? But their emails never contained an unsubscribe link. Every time I searched for ways to make them stop emailing me I found the same piece of advice. The only way of making them stop is to join the site.
It starts to feel like a protection racket after a while.
I emailed various addresses and got no help. I asked their twitter account and got no help there either. When I first searched their FAQ I found questions about removing email addresses and thought I'd finally struck gold. But the answers always led to a login page.
It was like an endlessly looping conversation:
"You want to remove your email address? Sure thing... just go to your account page and change your settings."
"But I don't have an account. So I don't have an account page."
"That's okay... you can sign up and... "
But then, one day I managed to find a magic link in the FAQ. It was a question about removing your address from a Do Not Contact list. In other words it was the exact opposite of what I wanted... but it was exciting because at least it proved that there was such a thing as a Do Not Contact list. (It just seemed wholly in keeping with Linked In's corporate mindset that they could only ever envisage people wanting to find out how to be more contactable rather than less.)
I clicked the link. It led to an email form. I had to change the pre-ordained subject line in order to make it say I wanted out and then I explained that I'd spent two years trying to make them leave me alone.
And it finally worked. I finally got a response... and they tell me I'm now on the Do Not Contact list. And so far I haven't heard from them. And I expect them to stay true to their word because they are a legit, law abiding company. Albeit one that annoys the hell out of me and - judging from my twitter stream - hundreds of other people too.
Interestingly the page I found seems to have been reworded since. (I'm not claiming that they've changed it because of me, I'm just mentioning it so that I don't get a load of messages telling me I'm wrong.) There is now a question in the FAQ that tells you how to add your address to the Do Not Contact list. Finally they acknowledge that there are people who don't want to hear from them!
It's still not the easiest link to find. I've replied to a few people telling them how I did it but I didn't have the link to hand at the time so I could only tell them that it existed. They've come back telling me that they couldn't find it. So here, for everyone else who feels spammed by Linked In, is the magic button to get you out of the system:
And this is what freedom looks like:
I'd be interested to hear from anyone who uses the site to find out what it looks like from the inside? How clear is it that the site is emailing people on your behalf? I've no problem with those who like it... I just think that when a big company sends out so many emails and they don't make opting-out an easy option they might as well be spammers regardless of what the law says.