To Opt-In or Opt-Out? It Depends on the Question

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 25-27, 2001

4 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2009

See all articles by Steven Bellman

Steven Bellman

Murdoch University

Eric J. Johnson

Columbia Business School - Marketing

Gerald Lohse

Accenture Corporation

Date Written: February 2001


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 conducted by Cyber Dialogue Inc. found that 69% of U.S. Internet users did not know they had given their consent to be included on email distribution lists. 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. They systematically explored the influence of question framing and response defaults on consumers' apparent privacy preferences in two online experiments detailed. 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. Results of 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. If consumers had fixed policies about the privacy of their data, then asking them to opt-out or opt-in to a Web site's privacy policy would make no difference to their answer.

Keywords: consumer behavior, permission marketing, web sites, internet users, response rates, records management, filtering software

Suggested Citation

Bellman, Steven and Johnson, Eric J. and Lohse, Gerald, To Opt-In or Opt-Out? It Depends on the Question (February 2001). Communications of the ACM, Vol. 44, No. 2, pp. 25-27, 2001, Available at SSRN:

Steven Bellman (Contact Author)

Murdoch University ( email )

South Street
Murdoch 6150, Western Australia

Eric J. Johnson

Columbia Business School - Marketing ( email )

New York, NY 10027
United States

Gerald Lohse

Accenture Corporation ( email )

141 Walker Street
Chicago, IL 60601
United States

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