The definition of “opting in” has become strained
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.