09
Feb
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Everyone hates junk mail, right? I'm not talking about spam emails you get in your inbox on a daily basis, which you may not even notice if you're using Gmail. I'm talking about those pesky paper ads that arrive over snail mail almost every single day, burying the lone letters you do actually care about in an ocean of, well, crap.

Last week, I ran into a website called http://www.yellowpagesoptout.com which finally let me opt out of the 1500-pound Yellow Book. Sure, it's valuable as a monitor stand and could come in handy in a bonfire, but the amount of paper wasted on making them is just staggering. We use the Interwebs now, OK?

Enter PaperKarma

So I was absolutely ecstatic to find a new app in the Android Market called PaperKarma earlier this week. PaperKarma's concept is simple, yet so incredibly useful - take pictures of your junk mail with your Android device's camera, and they'll try their best to have you automatically unsubscribed.

Brilliant, isn't it? So, how well does it work? Let's dive in.

Note: I can talk about the mechanics of using the app and its ID capabilities, but, unfortunately, it's still too early to tell whether I'll actually get less junk from the companies PK unsubscribed me from. However, I have a good feeling about it.

Logistics

First and foremost after you download the app, you need to sign up for a new account and add your address. Naturally, the app needs your name and address so it has something to give advertisers (cue "nice try, junk mail operator" comments at this point). You do need an account so you can re-download the app in the future and track all your unsubscribe requests that are stored remotely. I logged in with Facebook, which automatically filled in my name and email.

wm_SC20120205-214048 wm_SC20120205-214205 wm_SC20120205-214236

After you log in, you're presented with a very simple Take Photo prompt, with other options to pick an existing photo and view all submitted claims associated with your account. There's also the Help button that explains how the app works.

Side note: By the way, PaperKarma is extremely well designed. It's one of the most visually easy on the eye apps I've used in a while, it never crashed on me, and it just works the way it's supposed to work.

Speaking of the Help button, here's what it looks like (I also copied the information from the FAQ - you can find it towards the bottom of the post):

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The Junk Test

To put PaperKarma through a proper test, I started snapping freshly received junk mail, about 15 pieces of advertising in total (good thing I check for mail only once a week and some piled up). The process was straightforward - just snap, wait for the camera to show you the photo, approve it, and wait for it to be uploaded to PK's servers. I do have a comment about this process, which you will find in the What It Could Do Better section below.

The photos I took got marked as Pending - identification is not immediate:

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10 minutes passed, and nothing happened. Then suddenly, a notification:

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Why yes, that was indeed The China Club, something I've never heard of before that day. Spot on.

At this point, the message said "Hey look - we found it! Now we're figuring out how to unsubscribe you. Check back soon to see what we come up with!" Alrighty then.

An hour later, every single one of the snaps I took was identified with 100% accuracy. One. Hundred. Percent. Now, I'm not sure if there was a human frantically clicking buttons, but my test was done at 9-10 PM PST. If there are people involved, I applaud their dedication (though question scalability). If not, brilliant:

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Not only that, most of the spam was already marked as Success (see below). What is Success exactly? Easy - "Voila! We've sent your request successfully! It may take a few weeks for the company to process your request. We'll check back with you later to make sure they honored it."

Did I mention how brilliant PaperKarma was?

Unfortunately, some junk mail senders, like Safeway and Lucky, were marked as Failed - PaperKarma couldn't unsubscribe me and suggested I contact the retailers directly. Perhaps these companies refused to honor requests from parties other than the ones who are getting spammed, and there is nothing PK can do about it. Bummer.

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What It Could Do Better

  • Multiple names and identities in the same household not supported - I'm not sure how important it is for the unsubscribe requests or whether the address with at least one name is sufficient.
  • Uploads are not done in the background, so you have to wait until each one is done, then click Unsubscribe (also for each one). It'd be much easier if we could snap multiple photos in a row with the upload happening in the background.
  • In the case of failures, PK instructs to contact the company using the Company Details tab, but sometimes the tab is just not there (see the Safeway screenshot above, for example).
  • The Status tab looks like a giant Status button when it's alone on the screen (basically when the Company Details tab is not available) - that is confusing.
  • Notifications come in when you open the app, but don't if you don't open it again. Push notification support would be lovely.

FAQ

What is PaperKarma?

PaperKarma is an easy-to-use app that lets you control your paper mailbox from your phone. Simply snap photos of your Junk Mail (coupons, credit card offers, flyers, catalogs, magazines, yellow/white pages, etc.) and we’ll make it stop.

Will PaperKarma stop mail I want?

Using PaperKarma only stops Junk Mail. It will not stop or interfere with receiving bills, statements, tax, or other important documents.

What do I do if more than one person lives at this address?

If there are multiple people at your residence, you can Edit the name field to include both. E.g. “Jack and Jill Smith”.

What part of the mail should I photograph?

When taking a picture, avoid including your own name/address - we’ll have that information already.

Capture information that will help us to identify the company or publication in question. Ask yourself, “Could I identify this mail just by looking at the photo?”

How long does unsubscribing take?

The unsubscribe process can take up to 24 hours. You’ll be notified as soon as your request has been submitted successfully.

Many companies pre-print their commercial mail in bulk. You could receive mail anywhere from a few weeks up to 3 months after being removed from a mailing list.

What if I keep getting some Junk Mail?

If you start receiving Junk Mail that you removed already, just use PaperKarma to unsubscribe again. We’ll contact the company and make sure your contact preferences are up-to-date.

Is there a limit to the number of scans I can send?

No! You can send in as many scans as you want.

Why do you need my phone number?

We try to ask for as little personal information as possible. However certain companies (e.g. many Yellow Pages providers) require your phone number in order to unsubscribe you.

How/where is my personal information kept?

Your information is kept securely on Amazon.com’s servers. All webserver activity is done via SSL (strong encryption).

How is my information used?

Our whole philosophy is about reducing Junk Mail. We will not sell or rent your information to anyone. Your information is used only for the purpose of unsubscribing you.

Read more in our Privacy Policy.

Have another question?

We’d love hear from you!

Please direct feedback or questions to: human@readabl.com

Conclusion

PaperKarma may not be the app of the year, but it sure is an app of the month, or even quarter in my book. Who knows, maybe even an app of the year - we'll see. Sometimes it's the little things, like getting rid of daily annoyances, that count, and PaperKarma is one app you shouldn't pass up.

It identified all the junk with 100% accuracy (based on ~15 samples) and reportedly unsubscribed me from most of them. If you're getting junk in your snail mail, don't wait another day and download PaperKarma, then sleep better at night knowing how many trees you saved this year.

Download

Artem Russakovskii
Artem is a die-hard Android fan, passionate tech blogger, obsessive-compulsive editor, bug hunting programmer, and the founder of Android Police.
Most of the time, you will find Artem either hacking away at code or thinking of the next 15 blog posts.

  • Solarwind

    send me your redplum!!!!! that's free money!

  • http://twitter.com/mikeGsays GarciaM25

    This looks cool, and I will absolutely download it because I love truly functional apps, but isn't it EASIER to use CatalogChoice.org for this? They can even send you prepaid MailStop envelopes so you throw your junk mail in there and you'll never see it again.... I've used them for years and it really works!

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      Interesting. Never heard of CatalogChoice.org before.

  • kruglovus

    There has to be a follow-up review of the app. In about a month. Juts to see if you receive any junk from these 15 marketers, and if you receive less (or more) junk mail overall.

    • applesauce

      +1 kruglovus

      10char

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      I'd be down for that. I want to achieve a 0 junk level if possible.

  • Mike

    I saw the headline "[New App Hands-On] Snap Photos Of Your Junk" in my RSS reader. The reality is much different!

  • Purplenv

    USA only seems, disapoint

  • sgtguthrie

    I'll put it to the ultimate test. If it can get citi bank to stop offering me stuff constantly it's a win! I've already called them 4 times and each time they said it was stopped. *fingers crossed*

  • Rlarson_mn

    Great little app. Very usefull for a business traveler.

  • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

    According to TechCrunch, Mechanical Turk is the secret ingredient to the speed with which they ID the junk. Not sure how I feel about that, but it makes a lot of sense. Now I'm curious how much of it is the technology and how much is Mech Turk...

    "PaperKarma either uses its “massive” database or Mechanical Turk to figure out who sent the junk mail."

    http://techcrunch.com/2012/02/09/take-a-photo-and-stop-your-junk-mail-with-paperkarma/

  • Georg Muller

    I'll never understand how you can write a blog or an article like this in this time and age and not mention restrictions or international availability.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      In the case of PaperKarma, no restrictions were published in the app's description, and since I am from the U.S., I had no way of verifying which countries the app supports and which it doesn't. It's really not that hard to understand.

  • john

    Why do you want to destroy the US Mail? They get most of their income from junk mail. It's our duty to receive junk mail with gratitude.

    • http://www.AndroidPolice.com Artem Russakovskii

      I realize it's mostly sarcasm, but on the off chance that it isn't, it's not my priority to care for U.S. Mail's revenues - I'd much rather cut down my own carbon footprint.

      • ChumbleSpuzz

        Harrumph!

        Minimum content filler:
        "I didn't get a harrumph outta that guy."
        "Give the governor a harrumph."
        "Harrumph!"
        "You watch your ass."

  • Alex G

    This app is based on a great idea, looks cool but is next to WORTHLESS. You snap a photo, send it to them, they declare Success! and you keep receiving the junk mail after that. With all the recent emphasis on coolness, actual substance has receded to the background. Such a shame!

  • Claire

    Won't work because most companies will not deal with this manual process.

  • Stopspam

    I have removed the PaperKarma app from my phone. They are selling your email address. I find it odd that after I used this app I am now getting more Junk Email. It seems that this app is subscribing me to junk email list after I request to be taking off a postal mail list. I found out that they send out an email the businesses after they request to remove you from a list that says “While this green customer may not wish to receive printed solicitations, he or she may very much be interested in finding out about your coupons, offers, apps, digital versions of your product, etc. If you'd like to find out about co-marketing opportunities with PaperKarma, please contact us at:”

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

      I've reached out to PK for feedback on this matter; they should be responding soon.

      From what I've gathered so far, they're not selling your email address, but they're indeed sending out the message you quoted. At no point does your or my or any customer's email get sent to third parties.

      • Sean

        Thanks Artem -  it's true... if we were revealing people's emails we'd have a riot on our hands :).  

    • http://www.paperkarma.com/ Sean

      Hi Stopspam - This is Sean, one of the cofounders of Paperkarma.  Allow me to very clearly state that we have never ever sent any customer's email address to any business.  When we transmit information, the From address looks like this: , which only we can decipher.  

      We go out of our way to protect our user's privacy.  Other than Name + Physical address, no information is ever shared.  And of course, mailers already have your name/address.

      Regarding our Paper to Digital conversion program (which hasn't even started), again, if you read our Privacy Policy, it clearly states that it's an *opt in* service. That means you'll be _asked_ for permission.  Let me give an example:  I like Costco.  But I don't want to receive their *paper* magazine.  I wouldn't mind receiving a link to its iPad version or perhaps their digital coupons.  I can filter those into a folder, and later when I visit Costco, take a look at them.  With our Paper to Digital feature, you'd have to *explicitly* say "Yes, I want to receive your digital magazine in my email box; and please use this particular email address for it". Once this feature is active, customers receive a notice and they can choose to opt-in or not, per business.  There won't be any "you were opted in - now opt out if you want" shenanigans.  Our TLDR policy is "No Surprises".  

      And to put my money where my mouth is, if you or anyone can provide evidence that we've ever sold / or traded people's email addresses, I will write you/them a check for $100,000 :).

      My guess is that your increase in spam is entirely coincidental.   Feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss this.
      Cheers,
      Sean

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