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Emilee Rader

Associate Professor @ the University of Wisconsin-Madison

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Why Johnny Can't Unsubscribe: Barriers to Stopping Unwanted Email

by: Jayati Dev, Emilee Rader and Sameer Patil


A large proportion of email messages in an average Internet user’s inbox are unwanted commercial messages from mailing lists, bots, and so on. Although such messages often include instructions to unsubscribe, people still struggle with stopping unwanted email. We investigated the user experience of un- subscribing from unwanted email messages by recruiting 18 individuals for via a lab study followed by semi-structured interviews. Based on unsubscribing practices of the study participants, we synthesized eight common unsubscription mechanisms and identified the corresponding user experience challenges. We further uncovered alternative practices aimed at circumventing the need to unsubscribe. Our findings reveal frustration with the prevailing options for limiting access to the self by managing email boundaries. We apply our insight to offer design suggestions that could help commercial providers improve the user experience of unsubscribing and provide users more control over the email they receive.


Jayati Dev, Emilee Rader and Sameer Patil. “Why Johnny Can’t Unsubscribe: Barriers to Stopping Unwanted EmailCHI 2020. Honolulu, HI. April 2020.

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