When does a customer’s right to privacy preclude a site from sending unwanted marketing emails? Apparently for some the customer’s right not to receive those emails does not matter.
It is understandable that some genealogy sites want to market their products, and third party products to its customers as a way to generate revenue. Generally I have no problem with that, as long as I am able to opt-out, or unsubscribe, from those emails.
A site offers information or records you may desire to access to further your genealogical research. You create an account, give the relevant information, such as your name, address, and email address, and pay for the service. Shortly after that you being to receive marketing emails that push other services of that site, or those of third parties. This is how they make some of their money.
Opt-Out of Emails
These emails have a link, usually in the bottom, which allows you to unsubscribe from future marketing emails. It is sometimes hidden within the small text at the bottom, or is of similar colour as its surroundings to help hide it, but it is there. You click on that link, are taken to another page where you can either confirm that you want to unsubscribe, or allows you to edit your preferences of emails and how often you receive them.
This option to unsubscribe is required by federal law. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 requires that commercial emails must have a form of opting-out from receiving these emails in the future.
Another option most sites give you allows you to look under your account information on their website and edit your email preferences, allowing you to either opt-in or opt-out of receiving marketing emails or updates. Most commercial genealogical sites are very good at honouring the wishes of their customers regarding marketing email.
And then you have GenealogyBank.
Not only do I receive unsolicited marketing emails from them, even after I use the unsubscribe link in the emails, but I have received phone calls trying to sell me their books and publications. Allow me to explain in detail (yes, this is a rant.)
This morning I received an email from GenealogyBank entitled, “Jon, Here is Your Exclusive Offer for GenealogyBank Members!” I have not received any emails from them since I last “unsubscribed” from their email list on 23 April 2018 in an email entitled, “Jon, Here’s a free resource we created for you – enjoy!” Of course I had not used their site since that time, but a few days ago I logged in to perform some research in their newspapers collection. Lo and behold, a marketing email.
Oh, and notice how all their marketing emails always appear to have an exclamation point at the end. Oh, the excitement!
Upon receiving this email this morning I went to the bottom of the email, located the “Unsubscribe” link, clicked on it, and was notified “Your e-mail address has been unsubscribed.” Unfortunately I was upset by this point. I wanted to make sure I would stay unsubscribed, so I went to the “My Account” area of their website, but they offered no option to edit your email preferences.
Under the “View or update my account information” is only the basic name, phone number, address, email address, et cetera. Nothing about email preferences. I look
under “Account and Billing Help” and again, there is nothing about opting in or out of emails.
“If you receive communications from Us that you prefer not to receive, you may request to opt out from receiving these communications by contacting Us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may “opt-out” altogether from providing Personal Information to Us by not registering on the Site and thereby not providing Personal Information.”
What they are saying is you cannot unsubscribe from their communications via the “Unsubscribe” link in their emails, or by editing the preferences in your account profile, but you have to send an email to an address that is not easily found, and for a domain that is not the same as the website.
I sent them an email, let’s see what happens now.
Vendor sites have a right to make money, even if it means sending out marketing emails. What they do not have a right to do is continue sending those emails when the customer asks them to stop. It is also good business practice to allow the customer to edit their preferences from their account on the website in the stead of forcing them to look deep into the small print to find out how to opt out of those emails.
As I was finishing this article, I received an email from GenealogyBank. This is the response they gave, and they still did not address being able to edit your preferences from your account on the website.
“Thank you for contacting GenealogyBank.com regarding this issue.
We apologize for the inconvenience. We have removed your email, email@example.com, from our emailing list. We have also passed your email along to have our team look into further concerning the unsubscribe button.
It should behave where when you click ‘unsubscribe” you will not receive any more promotional emails unless you sign up for them again, however it seems that is not the case in your situation.
Thank you again for bringing this to our attention.
Thank you for contacting support”
 “Public Law 108-187 – Dec 16, 2003, 117 Stat. 2699,” Federal Trade Commission (https://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/documents/cases/2007/11/canspam.pdf : accessed 6 June 2018)