Home > Uncategorized > The definition of “opting in” has become strained

The definition of “opting in” has become strained

June 16, 2015

It strikes me that the concept of “opting in” to some service or society has become strained, even more than usual.

We have become more or less used to the idea that we’ll check on agreement boxes, written in inscrutable legalese, in order to get free stuff. We will do that without ever reading the box or understanding what we’ve gotten ourselves into. That’s a form of passive opting in, which depends on us barely noticing things.

But there’s a new, even more ridiculous usage of the term “opt in” that has been popping up. It’s gone beyond passive action to what you could only describe as inaction. Two examples.

The first one comes from Belgium, where they’ve decided that people have not, in fact, opted in to Facebook’s tracking and surveillance mechanism by clicking on a link that brings them to Facebook. They want people to actually click the legalese box before being tracked. Of course, their concepts of privacy are much stronger than ours, but they have an important point: opting in requires doing something, and it doesn’t count if the “doing something,” which is in this case clicking on an innocuous link, has nothing to do with terms of service.

Second example. When I was getting prepared to give my Personal Democracy Forum talk the other day (the link for the talk is here), the speaker before me, who was talking about microtargeting in politics, mentioned to me that what they do isn’t so bad. She suggested that, when they send specific political messages to certain people and not others, they only even have that information about those voters because, after all, they provided it.

I was confused, so I asked her, “Are you saying that you only send messages to people that have somehow opted in to political messaging?”

“Yes,” she responded, “they opted in by registering to vote.”

Again, that’s a severe misuse of the term “opting in.” Registering to vote is simply a part of being a citizen, and does not even indirectly imply a willingness to be tracked. We should all be automatically registered anyway, although now I’m worried about what that might mean we’re signing up for.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Chris
    June 16, 2015 at 7:47 am

    She was the “Director of Integration and Media Targeting” but her talk is called “You Are Not a Target.” Which one is it? Her argument is of the same sort that says personalization and microtargeting are ok because we create the data trail–and thus had a “choice.”I’m starting to wonder if claiming that people actually want this behavior or agreed to it is what marketing people and tech gurus have to tell themselves in order to sleep better at night (on their piles of money).


  2. sorelle
    June 16, 2015 at 9:04 am

    So all of Oregon has been opted in. Yeah, that seems like a misuse of the idea.


  3. June 16, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    It’s the same fallacy that lies behind the whole concept of “social contract”. You live peacefully somewhere and mind your business — and, apparently, you thereby tacitly agree that if 51% of your neighbors vote for someone who decides it’s illegal to wear blue shoes with red laces, you’re bound by that opinion. Because if you didn’t like it, obviously you’d move to Antarctica and live among the penguins.

    On your way to work you pass through the “turf” of a local crime lord. Obviously you agreed to being robbed just by passing there.



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