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November 18, 2020 19:20
November 21, 2020 14:41
November 18, 2020 22:20

Ethical Email Manifesto

v0.1.1 - Draft

1. Preamble

1.1. Who is this for?

If you send an email newsletter, onboarding emails for your app or business, or any other form of recurring email subscription and want to make sure you are acting ethically on behalf of your recipients then this document is for you.

1.2. Why do we need this?

Unsolicited spam emails are easy to deal with automatically, we can block unknown senders, scan messages for certain keywords, or filter messages that come from specific IP addresses or locations. These are the mails that end up in your SPAM folder without you having to do anything.

However, many unwanted emails start out with our consent, but our interest in receiving them quickly diminishes over time - so called "graymail". This documnent specifies how we as email senders should approach these kind of communications.

2. Terms

2.1. Don't send unsolicited emails

Above all else, recurring emails should be opt-in - they should not be a surprise.

In real terms this means;

  • Newletter creators, if someone signed up for your monthly newsletter, then don't sometimes send them weekly without asking.
  • App makers, a welcome email is okay, but don't automatically add a new customer to your automated drip campaign of 10 onboarding emails.

2.2. Let recipients easily unsubscribe

Being granted permission to send an email to a persons inbox should be treated as a priviledge, and we should respect their right to easily deny us that permission at any time and for any reason.

This means we must provide an unsubscribe link within each email that is accessible to the recipient, this link should unsubscribe in one click and not require any additional steps.

The link should be clear and purposeful by;

  • using clear language.
    • "Click here to unsubscribe" is good
    • "Manage your preferences here" is not.
  • having a high contrast ratio.
    • Don't hide your links by using light grey text on a white background. This is not cool.

In addition, try to provide a machine-readable List-Unsubscribe header with every email (RFC 2369). This allows automated tools to help your recipients unsubscribe.

In case this doesn't go without saying, if a recipient unsubscribes from your mailing list then you should not send them another email from that address under any circumstances. This includes an email confirming their unsubscribe.

2.3. Make intent clear

There should be no doubt why a recipient is receiving your email, or how frequently they should expect it.

We understand that recipients may forget that they signed up for your service, or to receive your newsletter (especially if it is not sent frequently), so make the intent of the email clear at the start. For example, by leading the content with the sentence "You are recieving this email because you signed up for an account on".

Newsletter creators, if you sent emails on a schedule then let your recipient know when they will receive your next email.

2.4. No uneccesary tracking

Emails should not contain spy-pixels/pixel-trackers or any other mechanism that measures open-rates.

We know it's nice to see how many people are opening your emails, but since this tracking can be done without the consent of the recipient we consider it to be a ethical violation of privacy. Requiring recipients to disable images in their email client in order to not be tracked is not acceptable.

If you wish to see if recipients are engaging with your emails, then provide actionable elements for them. For example, clicking a link in the email is easily measurable, shows engagement, and is less intrusive.

3. Resources

  1. RFC 2369 - 3.2 The List-Unsubscribe Header
  2. RFC 8058 - One-Click Unsubscribe Functionality

4. Contributing

To offer suggestions or amendments to this document please open a PR or raise an issue.

5. Partners

The following companies or apps have agreed to act in accordance with this document;

Add my company


A code of ethics for responsible email newsletter senders







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