Blown To Bits

Why Defaults Matter

Sunday, March 8th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

A standard philosophical posture taken on privacy issues is that choice is what counts. If you have a choice between sharing information and not sharing it, the burden of responsibility shifts to you from the entity (usually a corporation) that collects the information. If you don’t like the way your information is being shared, you have only yourself to blame.

Hogwash. It all depends on the default: Do they share UNLESS you tell them not to, or do they share ONLY IF you explicitly tell them it’s OK? Almost no one ever changes the default — because, practically speaking, almost no one ever reads the fine print in which the default is stated. So most people have to depend on the ethics and good taste of the company, and that is rarely enough.

Though these are old saws — read the part of Blown to Bits where we discuss Sears Holding Company — rarely does one ever see a case quite as egregious as what David Weinberger describes about Verizon. Not only is the opt-out barely whispered, it is almost impossible to find and to make functional, even if you follow Verizon’s instructions exactly. A short, quick, funny, and infuriating read. And maybe I’m wrong about this being rarely seen — maybe it’s just that few of us have the patience to do what David did to chase it down.


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