Friday, October 29, 2010

Opt Out Means Opt Out

I got an email from Best Buy just now informing me (with way more words than necessary) that I am now opted in to their marketing material, even though (as they acknowledge) I chose to opt out. Here’s the email (highlighting added):

You are receiving this e-mail because Best Buy® has changed the way marketing e-mail communications are managed. Currently you are registered to receive marketing communications from the Reward Zone® program, but have opted to not receive marketing communications related to Best Buy generally.

We are writing to let you know that Best Buy has changed the way it manages opt-out preferences. Going forward, opting out of either Reward Zone or Best Buy marketing communications will result in being removed from both marketing lists. In order to honor your request to receive Reward Zone program e-mails containing special offers, invitations to events and account updates, you have been opted-in to receiving Best Buy marketing communications generally. If you do not wish to receive these e-mail communications, you will need to update your opt-out preferences. Please note that if you do opt-out of Best Buy marketing communications, you will also opt-out of marketing communications from Reward Zone. You would continue to receive e-mails regarding your accounts and purchases at Best Buy, services with Geek Squad and Reward Zone certificates.

Thank you for being a valued Reward Zone member.

I appreciate that they’re letting me know—I really do. What I don’t appreciate is that they’re changing my preferences in the first place. It’s a pretty silly thing to be irked by, for sure, but there’s just something about a company deliberately not doing the right thing that bugs me. (It would also help if the opt-out link they provided was actually up.)

This would have been far better if they had decided to lean the other direction and say, “You opted out of marketing so we’re going to honor that. If you still want your RZ emails, you’ll have to opt in to everything.” Of course if they were going to do that, they’d simply decide to do nothing because it’d be a loss for them!

It’s times like this that a simple mantra helps, like Google’s informal slogan “Don’t Be Evil”. I’m not suggesting anything about Google, just that I love “Don’t Be Evil”. Best Buy’s action must have given people within the organization pause and a simple test like that could have helped.

Best Buy may also wish to review what happened when Yahoo did something similar in 2002.

imageI’m reminded of a related case with StackOverflow, the awesome Q&A site. Way back in February of 2009 they retroactively enabled email notifications for a subset of users:

“We have taken the liberty of turning on the ‘opt-in’ email flag for any users who haven’t been on the site for more than 60 days, and have a valid email address and a reputation score of at least 25. We did this to reconnect with Stack Overflow users who have been gone so long they might not know they have a bunch of new answers and comment replies to their posts. (Not to mention all the awesome new features on the website since then.) That was about 3,000 users in total.”

That bothered me. The SO creators, Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky are very well respected for being The Good Guys. Stackoverflow, after all, was built to be the antithesis of the evil “hyphen site”. They wanted to be better. And they are better!

I’d bet lunch that this decision wasn’t reached without hesitation and that a tiny piece of whoever made it regrets it.

That’s a pretty stark contrast between how I perceive Best Buy and StackOverflow right there. I am a total unashamed SO fan boy. I believe in them and the cause. I believe they have uncommon things like feelings, and consciences. I don’t personify Best Buy with any of the same flattering characteristics.