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Archive for August 14th, 2010

Opt in vs opt out.

I’m not a fan of Junk mail and much less so for e-mail Junk mail. I also prefer to have control over my personal information. This is why I get annoyed when I receive letters with an ultimatum: answer this or we will share of all our information on you with our partners.I’m also annoyed when I’m registering for a service and I have to scour the webpages to see where I have to opt out of junk e-mail. Both of these happened to me last week, so here is my rant on the subject.

I would be much better served if the law erred on the side of caution and forced the companies to have to work on the opt in model, rather than the opt out model. For those of you who don’t know, the opt out model is where you are offered a service automatically and you have to go out of your way to opt out. The opt in model, ¬†you have to go out of your way to receive the service. I’m calling it a service, although I’ve never felt that I benefit from said services.

For example, you need to register for your phone service. When you do so, you are automatically `opted in’ to being able to spend money easily on your phone unless you restrict it. The case in point is calling numbers that charge for phone calls. There are various scams that exploit this standard setting. Sometimes they kind of register you through a promotion so that you end up spending money even if you didn’t want to do so. The phone company will just charge you for it and wash their hands since it is not their fault. So you have to opt out of the service by going out of your way and doing so. This is especially important if you consider the most recent virus on android enabled phones.

Of course, this does not protect against stupidity. But if you have to opt in for paying for such services by speaking to a representative, the cost to your wallet would go down in such an event because most people find bothersome to have to do anything.

It is clear why marketers like the opt out model: they have a direct line to serve you stuff (as much as they can try to funnel towards you without completely annoying you) as soon as you sign up unless you go out of your way to stop them. In the opt in model, you have to ask for your information to be shared.

The thing is that it is very hard to keep track of who has your information when you’re dealing with individual companies. However, if your information is shared a lot by default, you lose all control on that almost from the start.

Of course, you could always read economic papers on the subject that suggest that the opt out model is the most efficient for market economics. I’m not inspired by these studies into buying the opt out model: the studies do not seem to take into account the misuses of all that information.

I’m also not inspired by the recent developments where various governments around the world get an automatic pass on surveilance without court warrants. Current technological farming of information can be done on industrial scales at very low cost. This is very worrisome for freedoms that I hold dear: like talking nonsense on my phone without me having to worry on who’s listening.

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