Opt in and opt out

Every year, tens of thousands of people die because organ donor status in the US is opt in. If you want to be an organ donor when you're dead, you need to go through steps now to opt in. The default is "no."

Press releases, sent by the billions, seem to have become opt out. If you don't want the barrage of nonsense, PR firms appear to believe that one by one you must alert each and every publicist in the world of your desire to not hear from them.

401 (k) plans tend to be opt in. If you do nothing, you get nothing.

Talking to the police after getting arrested is strictly opt out. Nothing to sign, you just talk.

Cheese on your pasta used to be opt out, but now it appears to be becoming opt in.

Bacon should never be opt out. Sorry, but that's just the way I feel.

I think there are a few general principles that could save us time and money and hassle:

  • If there's a public good involved from a certain behavior, the default should be opt out.
  • If the pressure or cost of opting out is high and it involves a civil right, then opt in is a better choice for our society. (Obviously a potential conflict to the first rule).
  • If a business benefits in aggregate and the consumer is penalized on average, then it's smart public policy for it to be opt in.
  • If your business is going to depend on this connection as an asset, opt in is the way to go. Opt out email is another word for spam.

So, I'd make organ donation opt out, public religious observance opt in, newsletters opt in and smart financial choices opt out. Anything that tricks a consumer into paying for something ought to be double opt in. And without a doubt, email (and commercial transactions of all kinds) are opt in. Smart for both sides.

No need to sneak around. Ask first.