Published on Jun 07

The ultimate guide to unsubscribing from emails in 2024

Here is the ultimate 2024 guide to unsubscribe that you have been looking for. You are going to learn to differentiate between the different technologies and options available when it comes to unsubscribing, as well as picking the right method for you.

The ultimate guide to unsubscribing from emails in 2024

Inboxes flooded with promotional emails and newsletters can be overwhelming. Whether it's the aftermath of an online shopping spree or an ill-fated subscription, managing unwanted emails is a task many of us face daily. The good news is that unsubscribing from these pesky messages doesn't have to be a headache. Here's a comprehensive guide on how to unsubscribe from unwanted emails across various popular email providers.

What are the components of an email (header information & standard)

We tend to perceive email as being this sort of "old" technology, that has somehow always been around and you never really think of the world before that, especially if you are born in this millennium.

The truth is, at the dawn of email, a lot of very capable and smart people got around to figure out how this messaging service was going to work, what would be the guidelines and the standards that would make sure the system is reliable, scalable and secure.

In order to achieve this, there are several other "hidden" pieces of information that gets passed on, besides the ones that we easily recognize, such as "Subject", "From", "Date", "cc". Already when we move to something like "bcc" the number of people who know exactly how this works decreases, because the email clients we use everyday have continuously tried to simplify the user interface. And that's a good thing, but it has its drawbacks.

One of these drawbacks is that we are no longer educated, unlike some of the more savvy Internet users, on the other pieces of data attached to an ordinary email.

We can talk a lot about these components, but for the purpose of today we are going to talk about something called "Email header information". As the name suggests each email has a header information field, in which the sender encodes some information than can be read by the receiver (or the receiver's email client more precisely).

It's amazing that these fields existed largely unchanged in the standards lied out in the 1990s by the email standardization pioneers that helped put together the first documentation on how it was all supposed to work.

So now we know that email headers exist, so why did we not hear about it until now?

Well, because, go figure, it wasn't really used.

And why is that, you may ask?

We can begin to answer this question by telling you what information you can store in it. The sender can include in this field the information needed by the receiver; in case he does not want to receive the communication anymore. In plain English, the sender is telling you how (where) to unsubscribe from the mailing list. And there are TWO ways it can do this.

  • ONE. It can give you an unsubscribe link that you can follow to automatically remove your email address from the mailing list.
  • TWO. It can give you an email address where to ask to Unsubscribe from the mailing list.
  • TWO and a half. They can include both a link and an email address.

Email header example

Now in case you were wondering, this is the technology that powers the "new" Unsubscribe features of email clients from Apple, Microsoft and Google.

Well because both the unsubscribe link and the unsubscribe email in the header field are not meant to be human readable, but rather machine readable.

Armed with this newfound knowledge of how email works, I will tell you below what are actual ways that you can get rid of spam and what is the difference between them.

Sounds great. Doesn't always work!

The issue when clicking on links in your email is that you don't know always where you end up. And that was exploited heavily by hackers and other malicious actors. Simply put, you SHOULD NOT click on any link from a Spam email. It may open the gate to even more spam or even cause other issues and/or compromise more of your data.

Besides, even if the sender is a legitimate company, clicking on the unsubscribe at the bottom of the email, just doesn't work, or takes such a long time, that users just give up and mark it as Spam and/or block the sender.

To be fair, we have all done it at one point or another.

Unsubscribe by pressing the "Unsubscribe" button in Gmail (Still Dangerous)

Gmail Unsubscribe

As I explained earlier this works using the information contained in the email header, namely the unsubscribe link provided by the sender, in the email body). So that shiny Unsubscribe button next to some emails is powered by this technology.

The issue with this is that more often than not, this is not present. And even if it is present it could still pose similar dangers as the unsubscribe link in the email body that we were talking about earlier.

This is the reason why up until 02.2024 no large email provider from the likes of Apple, Microsoft and Google was supporting this kind of Unsubscribe feature, even if the link was in the body of the email or in the header. This is simply because it could guide users into all sorts of problems. But that all changes when Google started making the header unsubscribe information mandatory for all bulk email senders on Gmail. The main reason behind it is that with the advent and implementation of large-scale AI it is much easier to screen for malicious or potentially malicious links. And besides, if you are a legitimate marketer, you will likely adhere to the policies, since you want to continue being compliant and send your legitimate communications.

Unsubscribe via the email in the header through the email client. (Generally safe)

And what about the unsubscribe email address in the email header? Well, that was the technical solution initially used by the Apple Unsubscribe feature, where if a user pressed it, an email was generated from the user's account and sent to that address. You could have seen the email in your "Sent" folder, after pressing the Unsubscribe button on the Apple email client.

This was considered safer, since it did not lead the user to an unknown and hard to verify web address, but in the end perform the same function.

What is on the receiving end of an unsubscribe email or link? (Here be dragons...)

These unsubscribe email addresses provided by marketers are not actual addresses, but rather "pseudo-emails" where servers are automatically processing the requests and operating the changes in the emailing lists. There are also several security mechanisms involved, with security tokens and means to prevent abuse of this system, but for the purpose of this article, we will not deep dive into that. You can find some additional information on this HERE.

  • Gmail -- Email Unsubscribe -- YES, Link Unsubscribe -- YES
  • Yahoo -- Email Unsubscribe -- YES, Link Unsubscribe -- NO
  • Outlook (web) -- Email Unsubscribe -- YES, Link Unsubscribe -- NO
  • iCloud (desktop) -- Email Unsubscribe -- YES, Link Unsubscribe -- NO
  • iCloud (mobile) -- Email Unsubscribe -- YES, Link Unsubscribe -- NO

Unsubscribe by blocking the sender and using a filter (on the user end of the problem)

Creating a filter

One other way to unsubscribe is to create a filter or rule on your end, via the options available in your email client. These filters work by setting criteria that put your received emails in "buckets" or trigger some form of predefined action. Although tougher to set-up, these are very effective and do not expose you in any way to any third-party website or script.

Due to their initial lengthy setup, not a lot of people use them, but recently some tools are available on the market that can help you speed that process up. One such tool is AgainstData that helps you quickly go through your Inbox and sort the promotional emails, from other important correspondence. You can then choose to also bulk delete a lot of the old emails that are using up your precious storage space.

Regardless of the method you choose, the good part about unsubscribing and filtering out unwanted emails is that it is there to stay, keeping you focused on your tasks and helps you save precious minutes every day. And these minutes add up.

Unsubscribe through your email provider: Gmail case study

Gmail also offers a native unsubscribe feature to solve the same problem. This uses the core Gmail application to detect and flag emails that are likely promotional, or spam and it prompts the user with a message in case they want to unsubscribe in a relatively fast way.

When you turn on the Auto Unsubscribe feature, Gmail scans your incoming emails, analyzing factors like the sender's reputation, the content of the email, and user feedback. These algorithms help Gmail determine which emails you might not want, and they tend to get better over time. If Gmail thinks an email is potentially unwanted, it will place an unsubscribe link at the top of the message. This link comes with a brief message explaining why Gmail thinks the email is promotional, giving you the option to opt out of future messages from that sender.

Keep in mind, while Gmail's Auto Unsubscribe feature is highly effective, it's not perfect. Some unwanted emails might still slip through, especially if they're from new or unknown senders. Occasionally, Gmail might also mistakenly flag a legitimate email as promotional or spam.

Sending a deletion request

But of course, unsubscribing has its limitations. Even if you unsubscribe from a company, they still hold some, if not all, of your personal data. This is one of the major downsides of "just" unsubscribing from some newsletters and services.

For the companies that you know for sure you do not want to use anymore, you can also request them to delete your data. Luckily if you live in the E.U. or in a jurisdiction with personal data protection legislation you can request this as a legal right.

The best part is that you don't need any legal knowledge, or even to look for where to send such a request. You can simply use a tool like Data Against Data to send a deletion request with one click.

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