NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Opt In, Or Opt Out?

December 1, 2000

The debate about protecting the privacy of Internet shoppers and users in general comes down to two very different approaches, say observers.

  • Under one option, known as "opt in," marketers agree not to collect or use personal data unless you affirm that you want to participate in their programs.
  • "Opt out" takes the opposite tack, assuming you want to participate unless the site hears otherwise.
  • When the Federal Trade Commission examined popular Web sites earlier this year, it found 75 percent had opt-out policies.

Privacy advocates say consumers should have privacy without having to assert their right to it. And exercising that right by opting out can be difficult:

  • For instance, Yahoo's privacy statement is two pages long and packed with links to other pages you need to read to understand it.
  • And opting out of Yahoo doesn't opt you out of the 19 advertising networks that insert ad banners onto its pages and place their own tiny "cookie" files onto your computer.
  • At online ad network DoubleClick, if you opt out, it doesn't keep DoubleClick's cookies off your computer; instead, you must ask for a special DoubleClick cookie that says, effectively, ignore me.

Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.) introduced a bill that would bar sites from tracking personal data unless users opt in. Other bills would regulate Web privacy but allow sites to use opt-out procedures --the approach favored by America Online and other big Internet companies.

Source: Tom Weber, "Faced With Privacy Question, Should You Opt In or Opt Out?" E-World, Wall Street Journal, October 23, 2000.

For text:


Browse more articles on Government Issues