This is happening because of a sweeping digital privacy initiative called the General Data Protection Regulation that goes into effect in Europe starting on May 25—tomorrow. While the regulations only technically apply to citizens of the EU, they has prompted many companies to issue sweeping updates to their privacy policies and user agreements in advance to avoid the hefty fines that can occur if they run afoul of GDPR. For some companies, it’s also simpler just to have one set of documents in place for all users.
The onslaught of emails has been annoying, but you can turn that negative into an opportunity by taking this chance to take stock of all the websites, email lists, and other digital things you may have signed up for. You might even find some surprises in there.
Apps and services
If you’re a social media user, now is a great time to log into your accounts and check on your security and privacy settings. Both Facebook and Twitter recently updated the way you can control your data. To check in on Facebook, start with the privacy settings, then make sure to review and deactivate any old apps you have linked to your account but don’t use. You can do the same for Twitter at this page.
You should do the same with your Google account, which is likely a lot cleaner than your social media subscriptions, but it’s important enough to keep tabs on. Click here to see the apps you’ve connected with your Google account.
While the big social media networks are relatively easy to keep track of, you may also find that you have some old accounts with services that never quite took off. I found an account in a service called Mylio, which was supposed to be a big player in photo sharing and storage. It has been more than three years since I even logged in, but this GDPR update reminded me to go in and kill the zombie account that had many of my photos saved to the cloud.
Gmail makes it easy to ignore email newsletters with its promotions tab, but like so many empty pizza boxes crammed under the bed in a college dorm room, they still exist and they’re not doing you any favors.
There are services that claim to help unsubscribe you from various mailing lists, but they almost always come with a serious cost. Unroll.me, for instance, is a popular service, but it scraped and sold information from users’ email accounts in exchange for tidying up. It’s a bad deal.
Most email newsletters will include an “unsubscribe” link, typically found at the bottom of the message. If you’re dealing with a legitimate company, this will often be enough to get you off the list. If the link takes you to a page to opt out, make sure you opt out of everything, including messages from “partners,” because that’s marketing speak for “advertisers.”
If you get a spam email with an unsubscribe link, don’t click it. It’s a common tactic for spammers to include a link that says “unsubscribe” when in reality, all it does is confirm your address as valid and mark it as a target for even more garbage messages in the future. For spam emails, dilligently mark them as spam rather than letting them sit in your inbox to help the email system’s AI start to recognize it as unwanted.
(Above: Check out the episode of our Last Week in Tech podcast in which we talk about GDPR)
There are services like free credit reporting sites that bank on users signing up for a free trial, then forgetting to cancel and incurring a perpetual monthly service fee. These services often require you to call to cancel your subscription, in hopes that they can get you to stick around or keep you on hold until you give up. Don’t. Also, don’t sign up for free credit reporting sites.
Software and product registrations When you register a new piece of software, or even a physical product, you typically provide more information than the company actually needs, especially if you’re not using the product anymore. Did that old photo scanner software I bought in college really need to have my information on file all this time? Probably not. Use this as a chance to wipe out as much information as possible and make sure old services don’t have login information you’re currently using for things you care about.