Friday, July 1, 2011

Linked Out

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 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.


Laura Burgess said...

Dave - yes it can be very annoying but I am on it and these are the options.............

Who can send you invitations
Anyone on LinkedIn (Recommended)
Only people who know your email address or appear in your "Imported Contacts" list
Only people who appear in your "Imported Contacts" list

Stromi said...

I'm a member of Lined In (not ben the job hunting bonanza I'd hoped for just yet but still hoping).

To send an email to your cntacts you actively have to give Linked In your email account password. It doesn't automatically take those addresses. It is something that someone has to choose to do.

Of course, once in to the email account, it will send out invitations to all contacts (Amazon must have millions of invitations unless they've read your blog).

Rob said...

If the emails always come from, could you not just create a rule in your email programme that filters messages from that address directly into the bin? I've not had trouble with Linked In, but I've used that method successfully with other persistent spammers. The advantage is that you don't have to provide your email to a company. I wouldn't want Linked In to have my address, even if it was on a Do No Contact list.

Dave Gorman said...

@Laura Burgess: The trouble (for me) is that my email address appears in a lot of stranger's contacts lists. I get a lot of emails from strangers... and I reply to as much as I can. If it gives users the option of ticking off each email address individually that's one thing... but if it's an indiscriminate everyone-in-my-contacts-list option it's a way of encouraging their users to spam for them. Do people know that LinkedIn is going to send reminder emails too?

@Stromi: exactly... I'd rather it asked people to individually check off each and every email address. Y'know, the way you do when you want to send an email to people!

@Rob: you can. But I check my email in different places and on different devices. Some of which allow me to easily set up such rules and some of which don't. But that aside - seeing as they're supposed to be a big, respectable company, I shouldn't have to find a workaround... they should just be polite and amenable and less spammy.

Emma said...

Dave,the emails don't cease when you're on the inside either! I just marked invitatoins@ as spam and then, every so often, when i'm REALLY bored, i'll scroll through my spam box and make sure i'm not missing anything genuinely important. and then i log onto my account read the ones that have been sent as internal messages. it's a hassle and it achieves nothing, as far as i can see. how long i'll remain a member is debatable...

alnapp said...

Hi Dave

FWIW I signed up post redundancy and as a way of keeping broadly in touch with people who you wouldn't necessarily want to "Facebook" with, it is fine. It didn't get me a job directly but has kept me in touch with people who have helped.

The spamming people side of things is annoying, but it is down to people not reading what it says it is going to do. Working in IT I tend to notice appropriate phrasing of such services and so have never used the options to "contact your contacts" for this precise reason.

I suspect not everyone reads these things - I seem to remember someone making a similar point about EULAs :)

I would imagine that you probably get a higher proportion of these emails but I would expect that you probably also get much higher levels of Spam compared to us unknowns purely by being on so many people's contact list. The difference being that Spam filtering is quite good and so you may not even notice that so much, whereas LinkdIn probably spend a considerable amount of time and effort (and cash) ensuring that they do not get put on spam blacklists etc.



melissa said...

THANK YOU! omg this has bugged me for years, too. Now to add all (counts...) 5 email addresses to it!

Avril said...

Thanks for that Dave. A colleague of mine took my address from our computer system at work without permission and as annoyed as I am about that I've been even more annoyed by those damned reminder emails. Hopefully they shall be a thing of the past now.

TRT said...

It sounds to me like you needed some professional help regarding your IT related issue.

It just so happens that I know of an excellent website which can put you in touch with literally tens of thousands of like minded, competent and professional individuals who would be able to help you sort out your problem with... Oh. I see.

Moni said...

The site is as annoying as the emails. Once you join you get a whole load of fresh emails - ie;
Joining groups
Wanta link to this person
Do you know the person who linked to this person also linked to these people- arrrrrhhhhhhhhh
Also I can't find anyone I actually wanted to link to. Really rubbish search option.
- last but not least - anything good costs ya!!!!
Hate it. But I'm still on it. Hope springs eternal.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the link Mr. Gorman.
I really estimate you.
Love from Italy

Hazel Savage said...

sorry i am a bit late to the party...
I am a sometimes-avid user of linkedin. On the one hand it got me a huge promotion for an amazing company paying me double what i used to earn, on the other hand, i did once click contact my contacts thinking i was just signing in and now all my ex-fellas i ever argued with on email now think i wish to 'link up' in a business capacity; an open hand to all those liars and cheats!
but this is the nature of social networking and goddammit i shoulda been paying more attention as i typed my information in.
Linkedin could surely prevent all this nonsense but just like all the other socials, it is in their interest to grow, expand and chase you down.

Chris Watts said...

I'm on Linked In. I find it useful. I have always assumed that the invite all your contacts was a spam everybody who has ever sent me a message option, so have never used it. There is also the problem of knowing which email address friends are using for linked in. And finally it's really dumb to give strangers your email login when this is the key to your on-line identity.
The only spam problem for me with Linked In is from recruitment agents who buy privileged access to the user database. They often send job ads even though it says I'm not interested on my profile.

Maggie said...

Dear Dave,

You seem to have missed the incredible opportunity that linked-in can bring. I was once asked to be a 'friend' by a very, very much hated ex boss. I took this as carte blanche to respond to her request with honesty and quite a lot of editing. As she had been the one to get in touch in the first place I felt it justifiable that I reminded her that she is obviously delusional and never likely to be a friend of mine.


Tony Harding said...

If you want to stop them from groups read the following

and will tell you how

Sdcastle 64 said...

Thanks for the link Sir. Job done. If not I'll send you an email.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Dave - one of my neighbours has accidentally spammed us all via LinkedIn, so I was delighted to be able to point him here to the solution.

Best wishes.


Anonymous said...

I am an avid and wide user of linked in for business, but your experience doesn't surprise me. They often change things in the site that leave users locked out of groups or needing help and raising a ticket usually ends up in a 2 week cycle to a reply or no reply at all. Plenty of blogs and discussion on this and how linked in acts like the be all and end all and doesn't respect its users or what we give them. Seems to be the way of the social networks as we have all seen the same from facebook and twitter in thenews recently.

Ian Moyse

Unknown said...

Reid Hoffman reluctantly admits that LinkedIn’s design needs work