Ten days to unsubscribe from your spam? You’ve gotta be kidding, AT&T

The promotional emails from AT&T were becoming more insistent. With subject lines like “Appearances can be deceiving, Christopher,” and “This is SO you!” and “Christopher, think you can resist?,” it was time to resist.

I needed to get off AT&T’s promotional list for new iPads, phone service and tablets, and I needed it to happen now.

AT&T’s answer? In due time, Christopher.

I’m a reluctant AT&T customer. I have an unlimited data plan dating back to the first iPhone that I just can’t seem to let go of. So I put up with the dead zones, the price hikes and the junk fees, because I can’t imagine it’s better with a competitor.

But I have a few expectations. First, that a company like AT&T won’t send me spam, either from the company or from one of its “trusted” partners. If I want ads, I’ll sign up for them, thanks very much. And second, that if I ask it to remove me, it will. No questions asked.

But this is what happened when I tried to unsubscribe from AT&T’s emails:

We have received your unsubscribe request and will send you a confirmation email. Your request may take up to 10 business days to be processed.

Going forward, you will continue to receive transactional emails, which are the emails related to your bill or any orders.

If you would like to receive promotional e-mails from us in the future, you can sign up here.

Huh? Ten days?

If this were a bricks-and-mortar business selling me widgets, I might understand. Maybe they need to update their manual Rolodex. But AT&T, a technology company with $146 billion in revenues last year, should do something like this pronto.

A few minutes later, I received the following message:

Promotional Subscription Update

Dear Valued Customer,

Email address elliottc@gmail.com has been placed on our “Do Not Email List” for Promotional messages. This action is a result of your online interactions or conversation with an AT&T representative.

Please note that this request may take up to ten business days to become fully effective and will not affect transactional or event based e-mails such as order confirmations or bill ready notifications.

If you would like to change your e-mail preferences in the future, please visit our email preferences page.

Your privacy is important to us. If you did not authorize these changes, contact an ATT Customer Service Center. Wireless Customers: 1-800-331-0500; Digital TV, Internet, or Home Phone customers: 1-800-288-2020.

Thank you,


I sent my AT&T contact a polite message, asking why it would take more than a week to get off its list.

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“Is this for a story you’re writing or are you just curious?,” she replied.

Both, actually.

Here’s the answer: Many unsolicited email campaigns are set up days in advance, so a company like AT&T may already have pulled the trigger on another series of emails (“Thought you were done, Christopher? Not so fast!”)

The CAN-SPAM Act requires you comply with an unsubscribe request within 10 business days, meaning a large company must remove your email address relatively fast, although not as fast as you want.

The AT&T rep confirmed:

Customers who choose to unsubscribe from our promotional emails are automatically removed from our list.

However, we prepare our email lists in advance so and there is a possibility a customer’s email address would appear on a pre-populated list prior to their unsubscription.

In almost every case, customers who opt out will not receive a promotional email beyond 5 days, but are removed within 10 days per the requirements of the CAN-SPAM law.

In the 21st century, giving a company 10 days to take you off its mailing list is more of a loophole than a grace period. A company like AT&T, which added me to its mailing list without permission (but legally, since I’m a customer), should act faster and should acknowledge that it will no longer bother me with unwanted advertising.

Should the 10-day removal period in the CAN-SPAM act be shortened?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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