Stop Junk Mail

The Science of Junk Busting

Guide to Stamping Out Junk Mail

Junk Buster

Junk Buster is a one-point-stop for opting out of junk mail and paper directories. The widget allows you to contact up to six opt-out schemes for junk mail and paper directories in one go.

The opt-out services you can contact via Junk Buster are:

And the paper directories you can cancel via Junk Mail are:

The widget

Contacting opt-out services via Junk Buster is quick, easy and completely free. In less than a minute's time you'll be on your way to saving up to 250 pieces / 11 kilos of junk mail a year.

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More about the opt-out machine

Junk Buster does not register your name and address with the above-mentioned opt-out services on your behalf. What it does do, is making it easier to find out about and contact opt-out services you may want to register with.

The three opt-out schemes for junk mail all have their own registration procedure. In the case of the Door-to-Door Opt-Out and Your Choice you first need to request an 'opt-out confirmation form'. If you contact either scheme via Junk Buster the application will send a standard e-mail asking for the form to be sent to your address.

Royal Mail is likely to send you the Door-to-Door Opt-Out Form attached to a standard confirmation e-mail as a PDF; Your Choice will definitely send its registration form in the post. Both services will take the opportunity to give you rather draconian warnings about the consequences of stopping unsolicited and unaddressed leaflets; you can safely ignore these. (For more information about the warnings, see Warnings… or scare tactics on the Door-to-Door Opt-Out page in this guide).

The Mailing Preference Service is the only junk mail opt-out scheme which allows you to register online. Until March 2010 the Mailing Preference Service used to send people contacting the service via Junk Buster an Mailing Preference Service registration form but the Direct Marketing Association (which runs the scheme) has now decided to no longer send out paper forms.

You can still choose to contact the Mailing Preference Service via Junk Buster but the widget will not send an e-mail to the Mailing Preference Service. There would be little point in doing so; your e-mail would simply be ignored. Instead, an e-mail will be send to your address to let you know what's happening and to advise you of your options. At the moment, our advice is to either register online via Consumer Focus' Stay Private website or to send the Mailing Preference Service my very own (unofficial) Mailing Preference Service registration e-form.

Opting out of getting the Yellow Pages, Thomson Local, and/or BT Phone Book dumped on your doorstep every year is as easy as sending an opt-out request via Junk Buster; none of the directories use confirmation forms. Thomson Local has recently started sending a 'No Thomson Local' sticker to householders asking to be opted out but you do not need to put the sticker on your door; your address will be marked as 'opted out' regardless of whether or not you decide to display the sticker.

A bit of history

Junk Buster was introduced in response to the birth of the Your Choice Preference Scheme for Unaddressed Mail in 2008. The launch of a second opt-out service for unaddressed mail seemed wholly unnecessary and anyone looking into the details of the scheme will come to the conclusion that it's a dummy scheme aimed at making reducing unwanted mail more difficult. Not only does Your Choice offer a very poor service by any standard, the very fact that yet another opt-out scheme for leaflets has been launched makes reducing unwanted leaflets (the official term is "unaddressed mail") yet more complex and time-consuming. Just to stop unsolicited leaflets you now need to do no less than three things:

  1. registering with the Door-to-Door Opt-Out will stop leaflets delivered by the postman;
  2. signing up to Your Choice is supposed to stop leaflets delivered by members of the Direct Marketing Association; and
  3. getting a 'No Junk Mail' sign will stop all other leaflets (mainly delivered by local businesses).

The UK is unique in having two opt-out services for leaflets. Just about any civilised country has zero opt-out schemes for unaddressed mail; in Australia, Canada and most European countries you simply stop leaflets by putting a 'No Junk Mail' sign on your letterbox. The only reason why the UK is an exception is that the Direct Marketing Association, the representative of the junk mail industry, is unwilling to make saying 'no thank you' easy and effective.

Blunt instruments and paying to opt-in

What is important to realise is that all opt-out services in the UK are run by junk mailers. This simple fact explains why Royal Mail fails to advertise its Door-to-Door Opt-Out and why the Direct Marketing Association has not made Your Choice and the Mailing Preference Service as customer-friendly and effective as they could be. The industry makes no secret of its view that opt-out schemes are 'blunt instruments'; they don't like the idea of you being able to 'turn off the tap' and would rather have you contacting those junk mailers you don't want to hear from individually.

Ironically, at the same time the junk mail community has set up a number of commercial opt-out services in recent years which require to register and pay a fee. These schemes are aimed at getting you to sign up to receiving specific types of junk mail as much as they can help to reduce it. They are less effective than the (free) Mailing Preference Service, yet they feel no shame taking what they call a "nominal fee" and they will happily sell your name and address to anonymous 'direct marketers'. I won't mention the schemes by name - it's best to ignore them, and I strongly suggest you do the same.

Paper directories are good for the environment

Not only junk mail opt-out schemes are difficult to find and contact. Up to this day none of the three paper directories delivered door-to-door in the UK tell the public that they operate opt-out schemes. In particular the Yellow Pages excels in writing large reports on how 'sustainable' the directory really is, and its PR department is even sending a character called Kirk round schools to indoctrinate children. The standard reply to the question why, if they're so green, Yell doesn't advertise the existence of its opt-out scheme is that "the number choosing this option is only tiny".

If you don't, I will

Junk Buster, then, was set up with two aims. Firstly, there was a clear need for a one-point-stop for finding out what opt-out service are available to people. If Royal Mail, the Direct Marketing Association, and the three directories don't tell the public about the existence of opt-out schemes I'll do it for them. And, Junk Buster only mentions schemes that are genuine. Any scheme that takes your credit card details in return for trying to get you to sign up to receiving more junk mail is best ignored. Junk Buster also separates the wheat from the chaff.

Secondly, there was a 'market' for a single place where people can contact any genuine opt-out scheme. Having to contact up to six opt-out schemes separately, one at the time, is discouraging. Which is of course just how junk mailers like it; the only reason why the Direct Marketing Association has not set up a one-point-stop for reducing junk mail is that it is convinced that opting out should be discouraged.

♪ I will survive ♪

As you would expect, the Direct Marketing Association has from the very start tried to sabotage the Junk Buster project. First it refused to deal with e-mails sent via the application because it regarded them as "third party registrations". After they conceded that the e-mails were just requests for an opt-out form the representative of the junk mail industry claimed that the information on this website is so "ambiguous" that it would be "inappropriate" to deal with e-mails sent via the application. When its Manager of Preference Services, with whom I have corresponded about these issues at length, could not mention a single example of "ambiguous" information I was again told that the Mailing Preference Service did not accept third party registrations.

The launch of Junk Buster V2 (the current version) solved this issue once and for all. The original application sent e-mails from an @junkbuster.org.uk e-mail address; it was because of this that the Direct Marketing Association could start a theoretical discussion about what constitutes a "third party registration". The application now uses the e-mail address from the person making the request for an opt-out form. Sadly, this does mean that you now have to provide a valid e-mail address when using Junk Buster - the application worked fine without asking for your e-mail address. An advantage is that I can contact people if and when the Direct Marketing Association throws another wobbly.

The latest spanner in the works is the Mailing Preference Service's decision to no longer send an opt-out form to people who contact the service via e-mail (which includes Junk Buster). The official reason is that the Mailing Preference Service wants to "save paper" - which is rather an cynical excuse for an organisation run by the Direct Marketing Association. The real reason, of course, is that the organisation wants to block the existence of a one-point-stop for reducing junk mail. In response to the decision I released Junk Buster V2.1 on 29 March 2010.

The latest version of Junk Buster doesn't send e-mails to the Mailing Preference Service; instead it will send an e-mail to the user explaining the situation and giving advice about how to sign up to the Mailing Preference Service. In order to help the Direct Marketing Association 'save paper' I have also designed an Mailing Preference Service registration e-form - a simple PDF form which can be completed and send to the Mailing Preference Service. Using a digital form would allow the Direct Marketing Association to save paper, while at the same time avoid the impression that its decision to stop using paper forms has everything to do with trying to make registering more difficult, and nothing with a desire to help the environment.

The Direct Marketing Association's Your Choice scheme does still work with paper opt-out forms (in fact, you'll get a whole propaganda pack if you contact Your Choice). This is because, despite the organisation's desire to 'save paper', it's not possible to register with Your Choice online.

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