Eric Johnson

To Opt-In or Opt-Out: That Depends on the Question

Coauthor(s): Steve Bellman, Gerald Lohse.


Permission marketing requires consumers' consent before a Web site can track them with cookies, or send them marketing email, or sell their data to another company. Yet a study by Cyber Dialogue found that 69% of U.S. Internet users did not know they had given their consent to be included on email distribution lists. Here's how it's done: Using the right combination of question framing and default answer, an online organization can almost guarantee it will get the consent of nearly every visitor to its site. Although lists of people who have supposedly opted-in for permission marketing schemes are valuable sources of revenue for Web sites, high response rates alone do not mean these lists contain valuable customers.

We systematically explored the influence of question framing and response defaults on consumers' apparent privacy preferences in two online experiments detailed in [1]. The participants in these experiments were members of the Wharton Virtual Test Market, an online panel of over 30,000 Internet users representative of the U.S. Internet population. The results of our experiments highlight the need for all online consumers to pay close attention to what they agree to when they send responses to a Web site.

Source: Communications of the ACM
Exact Citation:
Bellman, Steve, Eric Johnson, and Gerald Lohse. "To Opt-In or Opt-Out: That Depends on the Question." Communications of the ACM 44, no. 2 (2001): 25-27.
Volume: 44
Number: 2
Pages: 25-27
Date: 2001