Are email unsubscribe links safe? The answer is: it depends.
If the email is clearly unsolicited spam from a business or person you have never heard of, then the safest way to get rid of it is NOT to use the unsubscribe link (nor to click reply) but rather to click the spam button in your email client. The reason you don’t ever want to click the unsubscribe link in spam emails is because just by visiting the bad guy’s link you are telling the unscrupulous sender that they have reached a real live person who actually reads their email. And this could just open you up to more and more spam.
Additionally, clicking this link can transmit information about you, such as your general location (based on your IP address), and what kind of browser and computer you use. And just to scare you even more, it is also possible that by visiting the spammer’s website, you are opening yourself up to the installation of drive-by malware. Yikes!
But don’t let this scare you off of EVER using the unsubscribe link. If the email is from a business you know, or an email newsletter you remember signing up for, then clicking the “unsubscribe” link is the most polite way to let the sender know you no longer want their emails.
What does polite have to do with it? Here’s the flip side of the spam button. When people mark an incoming newsletter as spam, this counts as a mark against the sender, making it just a little bit harder for their email to stay out of recipients’ spam folder.
So, for example, if you signed up for Aunt Suzie’s Knitting Tips newsletter, but then decided you no longer cared about knitting and hit the spam button to stop Aunt Suzie’s Knitting Tips, you are actually making it harder for other readers of Aunt Suzie’s fabulous newsletter to get her email newsletter delivered to their inbox, instead of the spam folder.
So, yup, it’s all complicated, but email is an ecosystem that we all have to live in, and knowing a little bit about how it all works makes it better for all of us.