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Checkboxes and informed consent

An important distinction is between pre-checked boxes and user-checked boxes on the same sites. The pre-checked ones are a MAJOR source of problems, as one of my clients found out.

He used two of these services. The one that had his box pre- checked generated an unsubscribe rate of over 60%. His normal unsubscribe rate is less than .3%/issue, and <2% for first issue readers.

On checking into it for him, I discovered that they actually had filled out the form, and wanted some of what they "asked for," but didn't realise what else they had subscribed to.

This probably indicates that a lot of the people who didn't unsubscribe also didn't specifically want HIS newsletter. He unsubscribed all the addresses from that service. At the one where they had to check the box individually, based on his description of the content, the unsubscribe rate was 20%. Still high enough to look like a problem. Again, on checking, it turns out that those people didn't realise how much mail they were going to be getting, so they started unsubscribing from everything that came in.

I couldn't find one instance of anyone saying, when they were given the URL of the signup forms at the two sites he used, that they hadn't been there and signed up for something.

We wrote an email for him to send to the new folks from the second site BEFORE he ever sent them a regular issue. It explained that he understood that some people got a lot of subscriptions they weren't expecting from the site in question, reminded them that this was one they had checked themselves, (using copy from the description at the site and pointing to the page where they read it) and included a sample issue and the usual subject line he used.

All very polite and thoughtful language. The unsubscribe rate for the notice and first issue after it was less than 1%, total.

The point of mentioning the specifics and the process is to emphasize the case against pre-checked boxes, especially in co-registration deals. It doesn't (usually) imply actual *informed* consent.


Paul Myers is the publisher of TalkBiz News.