Bye. (Photo: Thinkstock)
Continuing with my January series of columns on feigned self-improvement, I bring you the highly relatable, generally inoffensive topic of mass unsubscription. Godspeed.
Hey. Hey you. Wanna see all the new sweaters on sale at J.Crew? No? Then how about if I tell you all about the new classes at that yoga studio you went to once, two years ago. They’ve got a new trainer name Aisha. She does great headstands. OK, OK, what about this: Groupon will help you get 15 percent off of a $300 sushi-making course. Tell me you’re not excited.
I could go on, but you have an entire inbox of email that does this expertly, on a daily basis. You might find that the Internet’s moneymakers have sunk their talons into your bank account in much more invasive ways than email: via hidden, recurring fees, monthly e-book subscriptions, or free monthlong trials that often turn into yearlong financial commitments.
Today is the day that you break free from the oppressive and insistent world of online subscription. Join me, my generally unaware brethren, as we fix this mess once and for all.
Chuck Klosterman once wrote an entire column in the New York Times Magazine that compared deleting emails to killing zombies. I don’t entirely disagree.
For more great tech news and reviews, follow Yahoo Tech on Facebook!
Several email providers have done their fair share of redesigning email so the junk is stashed away out of sight; Gmail, for example, recently added a “Promotions” tab that groups messages from email marketers and gets them out of your main inbox. Another company actually helps you nuke your unwanted with flamethrowers, which is therapeutic, if nothing else.
But there are extra tools you can use to actually eliminate that inbox scum forever.
Of all the ones I’ve tried, Mailstrom (formerly known as Swizzle, formerly known as Unsubscribr; it’s been a long run) is the easiest to use. Unfortunately, it only works for Outlook and Gmail.
If you select a free trial, it’ll crawl through the most recent 5,000 emails in your inbox to find all the superfluous stuff. For someone like me, who has 30,000 emails rotting in her inbox, this is not entirely significant. But perhaps you are a more responsible human being than I am.
Mailstrom will allow you to archive or delete 25 percent of your messages with a few clicks. Anything after that requires you to pay for a subscription, which starts at $6 a month, and can be canceled anytime. This is how you can actually block annoying email senders en masse with a few easy clicks. If you’re as big a digital slob as me, I recommend it.
Yes, I am aware that suggesting you subscribe to another service in order to unsubscribe from a bunch of others is somewhat ironic. It’s a weird world.
If you’re not looking for such an intense flush, Unroll.Me is a fantastic alternative. The free service for Outlook, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL Mail, and iCloud goes through your email account and then gives you an overview of the daily subscriptions you receive. They’ll all be consolidated into one email, so it’ll keep things tidier. And you can, at any time, go through an alphabetical list of your subscriptions and eliminate the ones you hate with a passion. My guess is it’s most of them.
When using Unroll.Me, however, you have to make a couple of compromises. First, if you want to unsubscribe from all of your emails, you’ll have to share a link to Unroll.me on one of your social networks as payment. Second, the service gains access to the personal data in your email and uses it to help tailor ads your way.
But look at it this way: It’s nothing worse than what your email provider is up to behind the scenes.
At the least committed level, Gmail provides a handy unsubscribe link at the top of every single email you get. And most of your promotional emails will have an unsubscribe link at the bottom, so you can knock out many of your unwanted subscriptions as they arrive.
Good to keep in mind next time you click on something and just … can’t.
Though not as voluminous as emails, recurring bank payments are much more dangerous. They’re the digital equivalent of mold in the walls. Whatever service or deal you signed up for may be slowly eating up your earnings from inside your bank account. You must stop it now, before it becomes the reason you overdraw your account, fall on your knees, and scream to the heavens in agony.
I’d recommend BillGuard, an Android and iOS app that helps you manage and budget your finances. It crowdsources the most nefarious monthly charges from users and identifies them for you. Because there are so many monthly services out there — Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, Oyster, Amazon Prime, Audible, Dropbox, GameFly, Match.com, iCloud, StitchFix, Fabletics, Vinyl Me, Please, news and magazine subscription services, website domain slingers like GoDaddy — the chances that you’ve forgotten about something generally useless is high.
Once you enter your bank information (which BillGuard guarantees is secure), it’ll scan your transaction history to flag specific charges that are sketchy. It’s also smart enough to separate those from your typical recurring charges to the electric company or Spotify. It’s wonderful, and it may very well save you some money.
Beware: Some of the newer startups out there, like Kate Hudson’s online workout clothing store Fabletics, will get you to sign up for a VIP membership for a deal, then consistently charge your card every month, whether you order something or not. That charge amounts to credits, which can only be redeemed on that website. It’s really sketchy and can only be canceled over the phone. Keep an eye out.
Also, most banks out there have created unique tools for you to safely shop with their cards online. Bank of America, for instance, has something called ShopSafe security. It generates a temporary credit card number that links to your real account, so your actual information remains private. You can also set a “valid through” limit on the number for up to one year. If you want to sign up to get a deal but cancel after the free trial, set it to a month, and your financial info is safe.
And don’t forget …
… about any random Amazon Prime subscriptions. I just got an email saying a giant bottle of fish oil supplements was surreptitiously shipped to me. Not sure where my head was when I set up that one. Cancel that stuff here.
Just consider it
Look, I’m not saying that you have to spend a lot of time purging your inbox and bank account. But chances are that, just like an apartment that hasn’t been cleaned all year, dust has gathered in the corners of your digital life. And it never hurts to know where the vacuum is.