Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Farewell to Bigfoot.com

Bigfoot.com was one of the firms that sprang up in the early stages of the Web's commercialisation. It managed to hang in there when the internet boom went bust and the dotcoms came tumbling down, and it's still around today. I stopped thinking of myself as a customer of theirs years ago -- yesterday I finally cancelled my subscription. Here's the story.

"Bigfoot For Life" seemed like a good idea back in the nineties: you could sign up with Bigfoot and receive a free forwarding address that was yours for as long as you wanted it. It didn't matter what your real e-mail address was or how many times you chose to change it, you could always give people your easy-to-remember Bigfoot.com address and the mail sent to it would be forwarded to you. And it was free of charge.

Sometime in, I think, 2001 I received a message from Bigfoot.com saying that they could no longer offer the forwarding address for free, so they gave me a choice: I could either "upgrade" to one of their paid forwarding accounts, or I could switch to a "Basic" forwarding account which would continue to be free of charge, but which would require an "opt-in", meaning that I had to consent to receiving a certain number of commercial messages from Bigfoot's "promotional partners".

In other, less graceful words: If I didn't want to pay for the Bigfoot forwarding service, I could get it for free -- in exchange for getting spammed a little.

I chose to ignore the offer and moved on. It's even possible that I had already stopped giving out my Bigfoot address at that time, I don't remember. I never had a great deal of correspondence that went through my Bigfoot account in the first place, so it was easy enough to shrug off the whole matter.

After a while I did notice, however, that they hadn't closed my account: I could still send messages to my Bigfoot address and these messages would merrily return to me like nothing had ever happened.

At one point I began to notice just how much of the spam I got actually came through Bigfoot. I hadn't received a single legitimate message through Bigfoot in years, yet a fair percentage of my daily spam did come from there. I was too lazy to do anything about it until a couple of days ago when I decided to write to them and have my account cancelled.

The first response from them was an unsigned piece of boilerplate about their commitment to fighting spam and my need to report "the incident" to abuse@bigfoot.com.

I tried again.

This time I was luckier. I got a reply that still looked like a collage of boilerplate bits and pieces, but it showed beyond reasonable doubt that somebody had read my request and picked up the part where I said I wanted to close my Bigfoot account. The message itself dwelled on the evils of spam, on the need to fight it, and on Bigfoot's commitment to fighting it. It also offered me the choice of having my account temporarily suspended while they were fixing the problem. And it mentioned, accompanied with a warning that it wasn't the right thing to do, that I could log in to my account and cancel the subscription.

So I tried that. I requested my password, logged in, clicked on "Terminate Account" in the sidebar and then hit the Delete button.

Didn't work. All I got was a server error.

I went back and tried a few times more. Didn't work. All I got was a server error.

The Terminate Account page also displayed this piece of information:

You are a Basic subscriber and your communication preference is set at opt out.

To re-activate your Basic FREE email forwarding account you need to opt in and receive future mailings from Bigfoot and/or its external business partners. Please click on the "Opt In" button below to re-activate your Bigfoot account.

You can also choose to upgrade your current Basic FREE account to any of our paid subscription plans and continue using the service while maintaining an opt out status. To upgrade your plan please click on the "Upgrade" button.


This reminded me of the basic puzzlement I've felt about Bigfoot ever since I ignored their "opt-in" offer in 2001: True, I guess, my "communication preference" is correctly set to "opt out" because I never "opted in." But why, then, has the service been forwarding messages to me all these years? I'm Opt Out! I should need to "re-activate my Basic FREE email forwarding account" if I wanted to receive anything from Bigfoot!

So, I wrote back to Customer Support. I duly informed them that the Delete button was broken and that it only triggered a server error. In the spirit of enquiry, I also asked them to explain why they kept sending stuff to an Opt Out customer. The acceptable reply to the question would have been that it was an oversight. I can think of a few less acceptable replies, the type that Customer Support would be unlikely to make, but let's not go there, shall we?

I didn't receive a reply to this enquiry, so, after two or three days, I decided to log in to Bigfoot.com and see if the Delete button was working now. I found this piece of information:

You are a Basic subscriber and your communication preference is set at opt-in.

You can use this page to optout from receiving future marketing contacts from Bigfoot and/or external business partners. Simply click on the "Opt Out" button at the bottom of the page and you will be removed from our mailing list

Please note that your Bigfoot Basic FREE subscription may be terminated if you opt out from receiving future marketing contacts from Bigfoot and/or its external business partners.


Sweet! When you ask them to cancel your account, they will subscribe you to their forwarding-for-spam scheme.

I proceeded to the Delete button and found this message:

By terminating your Bigfoot For Life account, you will no longer receive offers from Bigfoot's Promotional partners. However, you will also have to forego the benefits of using any of Bigfoot's services which are available only to those with active Bigfoot for Life accounts.


Fine with me. I clicked on Delete.

This time it worked.

Bye, Bigfoot, and thanks for the ride!

A final thought: if, as a Bigfoot customer, you would like to "upgrade your account", the company will be happy to sell a "quarterly subscription to Anti-Spam Solution" for $5.95 and throw in "5Mb WebMail Storage" to sweeten the deal. To me, this offer looks slightly disturbing. Bigfoot is a company that sells e-mail services: for such a company to sell spam protection as a dispendable extra rather than including it, as a matter of course, in the most basic of its services looks like a desperate attempt at generating some, any sort of, revenue.

Extra links, free of charge: unfavourable reviews.

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