Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Sneaky Opt-In Culture of the Web

"Why do we need your email?" So I clicked to find out. "The Clymb is a private member network. Pricing arrangements with our partner brands require that our low prices are only available to members of The Clymb. We need this information to establish your membership, but your information is kept strictly private. We do not share, rent, or sell our members' personal information."

This outfit may be totally legitimate, but I'm not buying. It reminds me of being a member of Price Club or any of the big box stores, where "membership" to a retailer is merely a function of paying an annual up-front fee. This is where companies earn their profits and sell you bulk items at low margins and steep discounts. It also reminds me of the brick-and-mortar merchant that asks you for your email address or phone number when you charge an item (for "security purposes"). I used to just say no rather than complain to the poor teenaged clerk. Now I give them a wrong number. I confess I'm trying to throw wrenches into this continual process of data mining for commercial purposes.

My point is this: Most of us have become accustomed to getting angry at the concept of having to "opt out" rather than "opt in." So the marketeers are now using stealth methods to get you to opt in. As soon as I see a bunch of blank fields with little red asterisks, unless I absolutely crave the product or need the service, I am clicking as far away from the site as I possibly can.

E-commerce has a lot of good qualities and an attraction that I need not recap here. But beyond the incredible amount of spam that even the best screening programs can't keep up with, it has become a merchant mart where sellers are using surreptitious techniques to get your email address (and usually a lot more personal information).

Then it's incumbent on the user to opt out. Even opting out is not always that easy. The more unscrupulous ones make you jump through hoops to do so, and then probably sell your email address anyway (or keep you on the list for other related companies). Why do companies even bother asking you to check a box about why you're leaving? Especially the ones that offer the choice "because I didn't sign up in the first place." The ones that really are annoying finally tell you that you've successfully opted out, but it will take up to "10 business days" to get you off the their email list. Oh. Really. It takes 8 seconds to get on the list and 10 days to get off it? The honest purveyors at least auto-unsubscribe customers right away.

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