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News Editor

An experiment in opting out

Dec 15, 20034 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMalwareMessaging Apps

As these words are typed, the first federal legislation governing junk e-mail stands but a promised presidential signature away from becoming law.

The bill – dubbed CAN-SPAM – is a piece of junk that almost certainly will increase the overall amount of spam that we receive, which one presumes is not the outcome beleaguered e-mail users have been pining for from the political process.

And as you probably know, the law for the first time establishes an opt-out option as the spammer’s get-out-of-jail-free card. Want to send spam? Just provide a working opt-out option and you legally may send all you want to anyone and everyone until they put aside their lives for the moment needed to tell you to cut it the heck out.

Don’t know about you, but the mere thought of adding this task to my never-ending to-do list depresses me – in large part because I have little faith that opting out is going to do me or anyone else much good.

Not that I’ve tried on more than a handful of occasions.

Chaz Ervin has tried much harder, however, and he recently wrote to share his experiences of doing so. In his tale we can find both cause for encouragement and concern.

“My wife had been getting roughly 40 to 60 spam e-mails a day,” Ervin writes. “I decided, as an experiment, to try opting out of them. After about two weeks of clicking on unsubscribe links (20% of which never work), I got her down to three to five spam messages a day, and this has been consistent for about two months. Of course, the spam she gets now doesn’t come with opt-out options, except for ones to fictional addresses.”

“So opting out of spam can work, but the question is, is it worth the time?”

My answer has always been that life’s too short. However, now that opt-out is about to become the law of the land – and spam filters remain imperfect – willful indifference to the option becomes tacit approval for spammers to keep on spamming.

So how much time was involved in Ervin’s experiment?

“I did this daily, mainly on weekdays, spending maybe 10 minutes a day. It took a few days before the amount of spam started to go down, which I expected as most of the opt-out pages tell you it will take a week or two to be removed from their database.”

I’m still depressed.

Quick answer . . . but half-baked

Generally speaking, brand-name companies are not very good at answering consumer e-mail. . . . Some do better than others, of course.

We recently needed a sticky issue settled here in the news department, lest the debate keep us from bringing you this valuable publication. The question: If extracted and baked, would the cookie dough in Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream yield an honest-to-goodness cookie?

After much back and forth and Googling, a colleague decided to try Three hours later we had this answer:

“We’ve heard from various consumers over the years who have done just that,” the company reports. “The cookies will be very small, unless you put more than one dough ball together. We can’t guarantee what they will taste like or how long or what temperature you need to bake them at.”

In other words, you can put anything you want into an oven – as long as it’s smaller than the door – but that doesn’t mean you’ll get an edible cookie for your trouble. We’re just going to have to try it.

But the response time sure was impressive.

Can’t guarantee three hours, but I generally do my best to answer. The address is