Report as spam, early and often

In the last year I’ve personally experienced an uptick in spam hitting my inbox. This is caused partly by companies taking the email address I gave them and putting it on a marketing list without consent, and partly by SaaS businesses who think it’s okay to spam people they found on GitHub so long as it’s a personal message from I find both of these practices highly disrespectful, which perhaps makes me an old man yelling at clouds. I have no delusions of being “above” the influences of marketing but mark my words: you will not sell to me via cold email.

What’s a grumpy nerd to do in this situation? I’d invite you to consider your email provider’s Report as Spam button, especially instead of any “unsubscribe” or “opt out” links. Perhaps you knew that email delivery services receive comprehensive feedback about who’s pressed this button, and they take it very seriously to safeguard the reputation of their IP addresses. Did you also know that this button doesn’t get clicked very often, so each person who uses it has a disproportionately outsized effect?

I’ll first quote Campaign Monitor, who are direct about their thresholds:

Industry standard for spam complaints is less than 0.02%. That’s about one complaint for every 5,000 recipients.

If complaints for a single email exceed industry thresholds — anything above 0.5% — your account will be suspended.

It’s well understood that there will be false positives—some legitimate subscribers will forget that they signed up, or they’ll be too lazy to find the proper “unsubscribe” link. But boy howdy, 0.5% doesn’t seem like that many people.

ActiveCampaign gives an even lower figure:

The industry acceptable standard spam complaint rate is anything less than 0.1%, or 1 complaint for every 1,000 sent messages. Anything above this level is considered high.

By having a high spam complaint rate, you risk having your account suspended…

Or Mailgun’s Acceptable Use Policy:

Statistic Threshold: Spam Complaints
Acceptable level: ≤ 0.08%

Others are more coy about the actual numbers but they also take it seriously. Mailchimp:

Once abuse complaints exceed our threshold you will receive a warning notice. If the complaint rate is far beyond that threshold, a suspension notice will arrive in your inbox from our abuse team.

Wouldn’t it be grand for some of these unscrupulous operators to receive that “account suspended” email? All it will take is a little collective action. No scrolling past with a sigh; just click the right button and you’ve done your duty. If only 1–2% of tech workers picked up this habit we could make our entire industry impervious to this kind of spam.

It should go without saying that if you adopt this strategy then you should strive for a good signal-to-noise ratio in your own reports. As much as I roll my eyes when a company asks for a 1–10 rating on a delivery, it isn’t really spam.

A side note: you might have seen that the mail delivery services sometimes provide a “Spam” or “I never signed up” option when following an unsubscribe link. It is good and admirable that they are giving recipients every opportunity to report abuse. Even so, I would advise to ignore this and use the regular report spam button when it’s appropriate. This holds the delivery service’s feet to the fire—if they don’t vet their customers properly then their IP reputation is going to take a hit. This incentivises them to stay squeaky clean.