When Unsubscribe Doesn’t Work…

So, a few weeks ago I started an account with an online discount shopping site. I won’t say which website but it is very well known, particularly in student circles. To sign up you must accept the site’s terms and conditions, a normal step in any sign-up process.

I’m sure that hidden somewhere in those terms and conditions was a clause saying that the site was able to send you marketing materials via email (and they certainly did!). So, I’ve consented to receive these emails. This is considered Permission Email Marketing, or PEM. PEM is not spam because you are opting into this exchange.

The first day I consented to receive emails from this organisation, I was sent at least 3 emails about their new deals and discounts. It was incredibly annoying.

Now, I get it. They are a business and their income depends on their customers spending money. Commercial emails (not necessarily spam) are used to drive website traffic and influence impulse buying online. You always know they will send you emails, but this was overkill! There is a difference between engaging with your customers and harassing them. (But then again, an email is cheap and just a few clicks and purchases will pay for the effort.)

The influx of emails was a nuisance, so I quickly unsubscribed and deleted the emails. And let’s be honest, I only signed up to get one deal. I was never going to use their site again.

The next day, I received another email and hit unsubscribe again. Over and over this continued. Unsubscribe wasn’t working. Now, I don’t mind giving my email and personal information to organisations I trust, just like 75% of the population. What I don’t like is when they abuse this PEM privilege by spamming me. So, I looked into it a little…

It turns out in Australia we have sophisticated legislation called the Spam Act 2003. This Act was created to regulate commercial electronic messages and is our saving grace!

Here are a few things you should know about the Spam Act:

1. Any message sent to an account based in Australia is covered by the Spam Act

Why is this important? Well, that annoying website sending me bulk emails was based in the UK. This means that even though they aren’t an Australian-based company, they are still covered because their emails are being opened in Australia and they are promoting Australian-based goods and services.

2. Spam emails are “unsolicited commercial messages

An unsolicited commercial message is determined by the content, layout, and links included in the message. If the purpose seems to be to advertise goods, services, or business opportunities (among other things), it is considered commercial. This is broad and encapsulates a great range of annoying emails, like my student discounts.

3. The legislation covers more than just emails

An “electronic message” is something sent to an “electronic address” in connection with an email account, an instant messaging account, a telephone account, or a similar account. That is so broad that it covers electronic messages to your phone, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc. The Act doesn’t cover voice-to-voice messages, however.

Note: if you want to act on annoying telemarketers, see: Do Not Call Register.


4. Not everything is Spam

If the message is not commercial in nature, it is not considered Spam. For example, political parties, charities, or Government communications are generally not Spam because they are informative, rather than commercial. So yeah, your local MP can usually send you their “Plan for the city” around election time.

5. Commercial emails must have an opt-out or unsubscribe option

No, your big business isn’t being generous and understanding by including the Unsubscribe option, they’re simply following the law. Not only must the message contain an Unsubscribe link, it must be clear and conspicuous (obvious) and be functional for at least 30 days after the message was sent.


6. Organisations must remove you from the mailing list within 5 working days

This is quite possibly the best part of the legislation. Your request should be acted upon quickly, and 5 business days is very reasonable. Clearly, my friends at the annoying student website haven’t complied with this section of the legislation… You also shouldn’t be charged (or the charge must minimal) to unsubscribe.

So, I did all the right things to get rid of the spam: I checked that it actually was spam, I unsubscribed, and waited over a week. Still… SPAM! I was sick of seeing the same, irrelevant, annoying emails pop up on my phone and computer.

(I was in a bit of a ‘mood’. Can you tell?) I was also bothered because I know spam accounts for 78 percent of emails sent daily. 78 percent!

It was time to make a complaint. To whom, I hear you ask? The Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA), I tell you.


The ACMA is responsible for investigating possible breaches of the legislation (among other things). It is very easy and you just have to forward the email or message using one of the options they list on their website. This could be forwarding to a special email address or phone number. And that’s what I did.

Now you may be thinking, Emma, this is a bit much. It seems like so much more effort to stop the spam when I can just press delete. And that’s a fair enough thought. So, perhaps a site like Unroll Me is more for you. For easy bulk unsubscribing Unroll Me cleans up your inbox. That way, you don’t have to do a whole lot but you won’t miss the important emails.

What can we all learn from this? There’s no need to do this to get rid of spam:

Click unsubscribe. Watch your inbox. Report to ACMA if necessary.

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