Remedial action taken for customers to unsubscribe from marketing  IEDPC 14 (31 December 2007)
I received a complaint in September 2007 from a data subject who was finding it difficult to unsubscribe from the receipt of marketing material from R.. She had booked a flight with the airline previously and had opted-in to the receipt of marketing material but she had now changed her mind and wanted to opt-out from R.'s marketing database. The data subject sent me copies of some of the marketing material which she had received by email from the company as well as copies of her attempts to unsubscribe by email to R..
On examining the matter closely, my Office found that R. had provided an opt-out facility at the end of its marketing email messages, as marketers are required to do under Regulation 13(7) of SI 535 of 2003. It invited recipients who wished to unsubscribe to send a blank email to an email address which began with the word 'leave' and which consisted of a string of over seventy characters comprising a varied mix of letters and digits. The data subject, in this case, had failed to unsubscribe as she had not realised that the word 'leave' formed part of the email address. In my view, this was a mistake which could easily be made as the text used in the unsubscribe section of R.'s email was not entirely clear and it provided no advice to customers.
Regulation 13(7) of SI 535 also requires marketers to provide customers with an opportunity to object to the receipt of further marketing in an easy manner. My Office asked R. to explain how the provision of such a complex email address could be regarded as an easy manner of unsubscribing from its marketing database. The company, in reply, indicated that normally people 'copy and paste' the email address into a replying email. It also informed my Office that when a customer successfully submits an unsubscribe request, R. sends back an email to the customer asking them to confirm by return email that they wished to unsubscribe. In effect, the company required customers to send two emails in order to unsubscribe. My Office noted that customers were not given any advice to the effect that they should copy and paste the email address in order to successfully submit the original unsubscribe email to the company nor were they advised that they would be required to submit a follow-up confirmation email. In the circumstances, we considered that customers had not been given an opportunity to opt-out in an easy manner and we asked R. to take immediate steps to introduce a more user-friendly and easy unsubscribe facility for all recipients of its email marketing communications.
I am happy to report that R. cooperated fully with my Office's investigation of this complaint and it promptly took on board our concerns regarding the opt-out facility. We subsequently received confirmation from the company that it had simplified the unsubscribe process by providing a link in the marketing email which the customer could simply click on to unsubscribe without the need to enter the long email address. It also removed the requirement for a customer to submit a follow-up email to confirm their wish to unsubscribe. These changes significantly eased the process of unsubscribing from R.'s marketing database and I welcome them.
The legitimate marketing of customers through the use of email is a common practice, if somewhat devalued by the sheer volume of such material which individuals receive. It is critical that marketers who use this tool comply fully with the requirements of SI 535 of 2003. This case shows the need for marketers to provide an opt-out facility on each marketing message which is simple and easy to use. It is my firm position that customers should not be required to send more than one email to a marketer in order to unsubscribe from that marketer's database. Any additional requirements placed on customers are unacceptable and contravene Regulation 13(7) of SI 535.