The Ethics of Opting In

Today, Ian Ayres on the Freakonomics blog talked about a serious topic, opting in or out of options on an e-commerce site.  There were two cases discussed in the blog post.  The first was about  Orbitz adding a check box that was prechecked for the purchase of  travel insurance through a third party insurance company.  Unwitting consumers have had charges of over $100 added to their bill.  The second case revolved around a user design issue where an unnamed airline’s check-in kiosk made it too easy for a harried traveler to inadvertently choose an option for a $75 “more legroom” seat.

There was a healthy discussion on the comments page with passionate voices on both sides.  On one side, there were those who said “Caveat Emptor“; people need to read the fine print and be sure that they are aware of what they are buying. The other side was concerned about the ethics of companies that intentionally mislead their customers.

I fall squarely on the second side of this question.  Yes, we need to understand what we agree to, but businesses need to take a lead on ethical behavior in our world.  There is absolutely no reason for companies to engage in deceitful behavior in order to make a couple of extra bucks.  Straighten up, folks.

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