opt in vs opt out

It is simple in principle:

  • an "opt in" requires an action or affirmation by an individual for inclusion; the default is exclusion;
  • an "opt out" requires an action or affirmation for exclusion; the default is inclusion.

But, alas, it is only simple in principle. Presentations of such choices, whether via oral, paper or electronic means, can be so disguised as to achieve the opposite effect.

For example, web-based forms sometimes offer "opt in" questions but with the "yes" (affirmation) answer pre-checked by default. (The same effect is achieved with "opt out" questions that have the "no" answer pre-checked.) Inattentive users who fail to read carefully and de-select inappropriate defaults may end up "giving" the wrong response.

One could simply say that this is the hard luck that sometimes attends inattentiveness. It would not, however, be in keeping with the spirit of laws and regulations that require opt outs or opt ins for various practices.

Last modified: 12-May-2005 [RC]


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