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I'm planning a possible email subscription management system for our company. Users will voluntarily opt-in for initial registration, and can control which specific mailing lists they'll be subscribed to.

Some of our mailing lists will be restricted to residents living in our community, and therefore will need to have a name and address associated with the email account. This will be optional for anyone subscribing to only mail lists that are not restricted to residents.

We also want to store cell phone numbers for possible future SMS communications, if the users wish to share that information.

In addition to removing specific mailing lists from their account, I want to give users the ability to unsubscribe completely (i.e. remove themselves from all mailing lists). Given the amount of information that will be (potentially) captured above and beyond a simple email address, I was contemplating using a boolean value in the database to determine if the user had unsubscribed, rather than deleting their information completely.

This way, should the user later decide to re-subscribe, I could pre-populate the form with the information on record to make the process easier for the user.

However, I am concerned that this would possibly be a negative experience, if the user assumes that unsubscribing completely removes all of their data from their system.

Is it okay to maintain data about a user even after they unsubscribe?

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you should sell it –  nathan hayfield May 9 '13 at 20:12
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Check your local laws as well (or ask a lawyer). You might be required to at least offer the option to delete the data. –  Ilmari Karonen May 9 '13 at 20:14

2 Answers 2

I think you should let them know that they can opt to have you retain their data after unsubscribing or completely delete it. This way you can inform them that they have full control over their data as shown below

mockup

download bmml source – Wireframes created with Balsamiq Mockups

If users do want you to retain the data, do inform them in the confirmation message that they will not receive any more emails but this information will be used to ensure a faster signup process the next time they sign up for their email subscriptions.

I also recommend looking at this study on how users can still engage users after unsubscribing without violating the no email principle.

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Did I overlook something in skimming the returnpath article? I see stuff about engaging a user while in the process of unsubscribing by offering alternatives; but other broken processes I didn't see anything about continuing the relationship after the subscriber has said "stop emailing me". Nor can I imagine any way that a company could keep emailing after the unsubscribe that doesn't enrage the recipient and violate laws like CAN-SPAM. –  Dan Neely May 9 '13 at 21:24

Having your name removed from a mailing list doesn't prevent it from being added again later. Companies are supposed to have a white list (subscribers) and a black list (people that aren't to be added to the subscriber list).

Simply removing someone from your white list means that they could be added again later without you knowing that they shouldn't be contacted again. So you could then end up illegally contacting someone that has already unsubscribed just because you don't know that you can't contact them again. This then is spam.

How do you stop someone else from adding me to a list after I have unsubscribed? You will still have to send me a confirmation email, which is then spam.

In many countries spam has a legal liability as well as just being poor public relations.

The only right way to do this is to store their information in a black list so that you never contact them again without them expressly asking to be removed from that list.


Further reading:
Email spam legislation by country
CAN-SPAM Act: A Compliance Guide for Business
Opt-in laws in the USA and EU


Edit: Depending on the country, companies are often allowed to make initial contact with potential customers in certain situations without them opting in (sometimes this is limited to business customers).

Additionally, some companies keep many different mailing lists within different departments. So if you are simply removed from one list, it doesn't prevent you being emailed from the other lists if they are then later synchronised. The only way to make sure you remove a name from them all is to have a black list which you aren't ever allowed to message.

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I'm not certain I follow how they would be added back in illegally. All subscriptions would be done by voluntary opt-in (i.e. they would have to explicitly tell us they wanted to receive emails by filling out the online form, and then confirming via a confirmation link sent via email). Is your answer addressing the possibility that the mailing list may be populated from sources in addition to voluntary registration? –  Beofett May 9 '13 at 17:33
    
@Beofett I added an edit to my answer to clarify this. –  JohnGB May 9 '13 at 17:43
    
Thanks for clarifying. The concerns you raise aren't likely to be an issue in my specific situation (the plan is to have a centralized DB controlling all mailing lists, with voluntary opt-in the only way of getting on to any of the lists), but this is information that is likely to be useful to a larger audience. +1 and thanks! –  Beofett May 9 '13 at 17:59
    
Alright, that is something I had not considered. Unfortunately, I cannot give you a +2, but I would if I could.... –  Beofett May 9 '13 at 18:46

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