Harvesting Emails From WordPress Comments Is A Bad Idea

A recently published article by WPBeginner explains how to export email address from the comments and import them into a mailing list. While the article advises getting the user’s permission, everything about this practice rubs me the wrong way. If you’re going to do this, please put a big banner near the comments that states your intentions. A quick and easy way to do this is to use the Show Comment Policy plugin by Jimmy Peña. The comment policy text will be displayed above the commenting area.

Show Comment Policy Settings
Show Comment Policy Settings

I’m most concerned about sites that export email addresses from existing comments. At least give those people the common courtesy of being notified and provide them the option to opt-out immediately. In fact, it may be against the law in certain countries to outright harvest the email addresses. Better yet, instead of getting involved with this practice, just turn commenting off on the site.

Are you ok with the email address you gave to a site in order to leave a comment, being added to an email list as long as you’re notified?


21 responses to “Harvesting Emails From WordPress Comments Is A Bad Idea”

  1. Heartily agree this is a really bad idea and a surefire way to discourage comments. People get enough spam without having to worry about it when they comment somewhere.

    • Germany is pretty strict on privacy as well so I imagine this technique wouldn’t go so well for sites hosted in Germany. Thanks for the link.

  2. I think the best way is to add a check box similar to the notify me of replies. Along the lines of receive weekly tips or whatever. That way they have to actively tick something agreeing to be added to the list and even then I still use double optin.

  3. Yep, the internet should be about transparency. I agree totally with what you are saying. They should consider a radio button check-box to sign-up for newsletter as making comment if that’s what they want to achieve. People who sign-up for news want the news and other people don’t, it’s called spam.

  4. I understand what you are saying, and I agree that people should not be bombarded with spam because they left a comment, but let’s take a look at the problem from the other point of view for a moment. How many people leave random, rude, or off-topic comments simply because they are not required to be identified? Being anonymous on the internet appears to make people think they can behave or say anything they want. I may encourage comments on specific posts, but I reserve the right to approve them before they appear on my website. Also, if they have to leave their email address in order to comment, I think they’ve already given me (the website owner) tacit agreement to personally contact them, should I deem in necessary.

    Yes, I know that is not the same thing as harvesting emails … but perhaps the areas is more gray to me than black and white.

    • Your talking about an entirely different subject. This has nothing to do with bad comments or approving them. This is about using the email address from approved comments and putting it into a marketing campaign without explicit permission.

  5. Jeff, I completely agree with you. That’s why I added the Editor’s Note there.

    However, we do our best to answer user’s questions and cover plugins that are in the WordPress.org repository.

    Adding the checkbox after the comments is the best way to go about it for sure.

    • I definitely read the editor’s note. The conversation would probably be a little different if it weren’t for that note. Backing up data is one thing, but taking my email from a comment I left on a site and putting it into an email list without my permission is downright sleezy. Thus the call for a comment policy or something that notifies users upfront or like others have said, a check box, just like there is to be notified of new comments.

      If I start getting emails about products that I didn’t sign up for, I’m forwarding them to you :)

  6. I think that the whole email thing is a real conundrum. On the one hand a system that allows someone to send you a message directly is a great thing, on the other hand its terrible because you can end up with spam. I think that to harvest emails from a pure public commenting system is not the way to go. If a visitor wants to receive emails then let them sign up as a specific action not a side effect.

    Generally email works as it is the lowest common denominator push system but that doesn’t make it a ‘good’ system. I am personally surprised that pull systems such as Twitter have not taken over for this reason as with those you can choose to consume whichever lists you want. Anyhow I guess that is a different topic…..

  7. Hi Jeff
    “A recently published article by WPBeginner”

    Yes I received notification of that article and it did surprise me that it “appeared” OK to do it.

    Not for me – people don’t comment to be added to an email list although it’s happened to me a few times.

  8. Who posts comments using an actual, real email address anyway? Yikes. Only a tiny percentage of readers comment. They’re going the way of the “save changes” button. Not needed.

    • I do, and I know several others that do as well. I have nothing to hide and no reason to be anonymous. I’ve used my real email address to comment for years, it’s never been a big problem.

  9. If you want honest comments rather than spam comments, I have used G+ comments (there is a plugin for this) and I know there are other services like it using FB, Twitter, etc. If you’re not a spammer, you can always go see and respond to these comments, and interact with the folks in very natural ways. Who needs mass-marketing like email anyway? No one reads it… Be personal, and up-front with people about what you are pitching, and you’ll probably make a sale.

    • Just because you use a different commenting system outside of WordPress doesn’t mean you’ll get legitimate comments. You can get spam and time wasting comments no matter which system you use, perhaps just not as many. By hooking your comment system into Google Plus or Facebook, you’ve just severely limited who can leave a comment on your post, unless those systems have a way to continue to comment anonymously.

  10. The polite way to get subscribers from comments it the way WP Tavern is doing it right now: with the “Notify me of new posts via email.” button right next to the Post Comment button.


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