Make It Easier to Change Addresses

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I changed my e-mail address a few months ago. I didn't do it voluntarily; my Internet service provider went bust. It took a lot of work to notify colleagues of my new address. I sent out hundreds of e-mails.


That wasn't all. I am on about 20 Internet distribution lists. I receive regular messages from information providers, including nonprofits, commercial companies and trade associations. I also use my e-mail address as a user name on some Internet services. All of these addresses had to be changed as well.


I keep track of most lists that I have subscribed to, so at least I knew where addresses had to be changed. That didn't make it easy. Some still use out-of-date list management software that forces a subscriber to unsubscribe by sending a message from the subscription address. That just isn't always possible. In my case, my old address is inaccessible.


I have complained for years that the U.S. Postal Service's National Change of Address program is unfair because it doesn't give people a real choice. When you move, you are presented with a Hobson's choice. Forward your mail and allow your new address to be shared with every mailer in the country or have none of your mail forwarded at all. You can't have mail forwarded without letting your new address enter the great American marketing system. I have always thought that movers should get two separate choices.


Having gone through the agony of changing my e-mail address entirely on my own, have I changed my mind about NCOA? Not in the slightest. The best thing about changing my address is the ability to be selective about who gets my new address. I didn't send notices to everyone in my address book. If there were a general e-mail change of address service, it would be boon to spammers, and only the unwary would use it.


I am unaware of any service that can handle all the consequences of an e-mail address change. Even if someone would send change-of-address notices, subscription lists generally require case-by-case attention. For better-run lists, you have to unsubscribe and confirm that you wanted to unsubscribe. Then you have to subscribe from the new address and confirm that. No one can do this for you. You must send e-mail from the subscribing address and no other.


Less spam is a benefit of a new address. My old address is on a ton of spam lists. Much of the spam is the breast/penis enlargement variety, with a smattering of X-rated Web sites, credit repair, Viagra and get-rich-quick schemes.


I am doubly steamed by spam coming from companies that purport to be opt-in advertisers. They say that I have opted in to their list and that I will be getting more spam from them. A recent one told me that I signed up for their opt-in e-mail marketing program. That was a bald-faced lie. I have never opted into any marketing list or to any list that produces spam. I won't buy a product or service online from a company that doesn't expressly provide me control over whether my e-mail address is shared or that won't promise not to spam me itself.


Over the years, I have received a steady stream of notices claiming that I opted in to an e-mail list. Every one of these notices is a lie. Any advertisers sending messages through an e-mail opt-in list that does not properly verify addresses are wasting their money. Indeed, if I get a message sent via a purported opt-in list, I will hate the advertisers just as much as I hate the actual sender.


I don't feel the same way when I actually have opted in to a list. I don't object to advertising-supported activities. You might be surprised to learn that I subscribe to some advertising-supported lists. They offer enough value so I accept the advertising that comes with it as a fair bargain. I have even patronized some of the advertisers to these lists.


On the postal address front, Canada Post has seen the light on changing addresses. In response to a complaint from the Canadian privacy commissioner, Canada Post is changing its NCOA service. Those who use the Canada Post forwarding service will be given an express choice about whether they want their new addresses provided to business mailers. That is precisely the choice that I want USPS to give new movers. If you want to see the decision of the Canadian privacy commissioner, point your browser to www.privcom.gc.ca/cf-dc/wn_020225_e.asp.


Changing addresses is never fun. I want the same thing for e-mail and snail mail: control over who gets my new address.

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