Virgin Media joins the ranks of spammers

As I’ve said before in a number of posts (such as this one about Sage and this one about FindMyPast), as a general rule if I have to give an email address to any kind of organisation or submit one on a website, it tends to be one unique to that company. If I’m submitting that address via a form (web or paper based), if there is a tick box that says (in effect) “I don’t want junk email” I almost always tick it. In those cases where I don’t tick such an option for whatever reason (or where there isn’t such an option to start with), I should always have the option of “unsubscribing” by clicking a link in the emails – an option which, sometimes, I have exercised.

The only problem with “unsubscribing” that way, though, is the lack of a record of doing so – and, at times, when I’ve received emails from this company or that website, I’ve thought “I’m sure I’ve unsubscribed from receiving this mob’s emails before,” but couldn’t be absolutely certain. So, in August 2010, I created a new archive folder in my email client and, whenever I’ve clicked on a link in an email to unsubscribe from receiving them, I’ve archived the email there – which means from August 2010 I have that record; when any given company emails me, if I think I’ve unsubscribed before, I can check this folder and verify that fact, and therefore decide what I’m going to do about it.

With that in mind, yesterday I received an email from Virgin Media with the subject line “Hello Vince, win an amazing family trip to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey!” – and I was sure I’d unsubscribed from their mailings before.

I was right.

My “Unsubscribed” mailbox contained an email from them dated 5th October, 2010, with the subject line “Get 30 pounds off your Virgin Media bill” – and a link at the bottom worded “You can unsubscribe from receiving future emails from Virgin Media by clicking here.” So, at some point after that date*, I would have clicked that link to stop receiving emails from Virgin Media.

However, the mailbox also contained an email from them dated 16th January, 2013 – just a couple of months ago – with the subject line “Vince, heard about what makes your broadband different?” And, again, there was a link at the bottom that said “You can unsubscribe from receiving future emails from Virgin Media by clicking here” – and click here I did.

So it appears that I have “unsubscribed” from receiving emails from Virgin Media at least twice (and it’s possible that I might have done before August 2010 as well, but I can’t be sure) and, on both occasions, they have at some point disregarded that request. The last time, in January of this year, I did nothing about it. This time I decided to make a comment on Twitter, with an observation about the email:

If someone unsubscribes from your mailing list, just create a new list with a new title and add them to that. Grr @virginmedia

That comment lead to a short exchange with more than one person (several people run Virgin Media’s Twitter account), which can be seen via my comment link and which explains the observation. To clarify, the latest email is from “Virgin Media Presents” rather than “Virgin Media” – although the sender address is exactly the same as the previous email – so I’m inclined to think some marketing droid at Virgin Media decided to create a newly titled list (Virgin Media Presents) and decided that makes it okay to include previously unsubscribed addresses on the list.

Such as mine.

Following that Twitter conversation, I have complied with the request of the Virgin Media Twitter bods and sent them details via their “Social Media Enquirey” form, detailing those previous emails, and including this paragraph:

On Twitter you (two or three of you) ‘assured’ me that you would get this dealt with. As I said there, this smells to me like someone in marketing saying “If we create a new mailing list, with a new title, we can just throw all our customers’ email addresses into the pot again and disregard their previous requests to unsubscribe” – on that basis, I have my doubts if you will truly be able to sort the problem, because while you might be able to make sure my address is removed from the “Virgin Media Presents” list (which it should be after today anyway), I sincerely doubt you can prevent some idiot in marketing just doing exactly the same thing again in six months, a year, two years time: Creating a new list [title] and emailing all customers.

I also pointed out that the only emails I should receive from Virgin Media are those for administering my account, such as notifying me that my bill is ready.

I wasn’t originally going to bother with the form, and said in one of my Twitter comments that “This time I’ve just unsubscribed. Next time it’ll be a complaint to the ICO & a cancellation.”

Given my previous argument with Virgin Media (detailed here, here, here and here), I think that’s quite lenient. And looking back at my Twitter comments, I don’t appear to have sworn.

I must be mellowing.

* The one thing my “Unsubscribed” mailbox archive doesn’t tell me is when I’ve unsubscribed from any given list or company’s emails – sometimes, the mailbox in which all such emails are filtered to start with can go unread for weeks on end, due to the ridiculous amount of crap I receive, so all that I can say for certain is that I unsubscribed at some point after the email was received. From this point forwards, though, whenever I unsubscribe from anything, I will amend the Subject: line of the email to show when I’ve unsubscribed before archiving it.

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