What does “Opt out” mean?

To “opt out” is a process of decision-making during which an individual decides not to participate in a particular activity or service or chooses to stop receiving unsolicited service information. The concept of opting out is typically connected with marketing practices, but it can also be applied to advertising, social norms, political systems, opt-out cookies, and more.

That is why, although to “opt out” has a broad meaning, it can be understood as a simple act of refusal which may have broader implications than merely not participating.

Opting out in the context of marketing and targeted advertising

The most common area in which we encounter the concept of opting out is that of marketing and advertising. Often confused with unsubscribing, opting out of, for example, email offers or databases, is essentially taking it a step further.

With unsubscribing, you choose to stop receiving promotional emails, opting out can also mean choosing to stop receiving targeted advertisements or not having personal data collected, stored, or shared with third-party vendors.

With targeted advertising and behavioral targeting, things become more dubious. Companies use these tactics to tailor personalized ads, but at the questionable cost of exposing your personal data. Hence, many online users decide to opt out.

What can you opt out of?

Generally speaking, people can opt out of receiving promotional emails, newsletters, or other forms of direct marketing. However, with companies collecting and sharing enormous amounts of personal data which they obtain, among others, from these marketing databases, it might be smarter to dig deeper.

By deeper, we mean two types of entities most prolific in their use of people’s personal details, namely data brokers and people search sites. These companies aggregate such data, collect it, and then share it or sell it to those willing to pay. This is why, if privacy is something that is important to you, you will first want to opt out of these types of companies.

How does the process of opting out look like?

The process of opting out can take many forms depending on the platform or service being used. In some cases, it may be fairly straightforward, requiring you to only click a button or two, while in others, you may have to send opt-out letters.

With data brokers and people search sites in particular, the process of opting out can vary drastically. Some companies make the process purposefully complicated in the hopes that you become overwhelmed and give up.

You can expect to be required to provide information such as your name and email address, but be careful when doing so. Some companies will try to trick you into providing more personal data. Never give out information like your Social Security number, think twice before providing any information the company in question doesn’t already have, and use a masked email address or a throwaway email account when dealing with companies like these (if you don’t have one yet, we reviewed disposable email services in this article).

TIP: If a company asks for your ID in order to verify your opt-out request, instead of attaching your document, send them a random (appropriate) picture downloaded from the internet. This will allow you to complete the opt-out process without compromising your privacy and safety.

Why should you opt out?

Companies can experience data leaks during which millions of records containing sensitive data become compromised. Not to mention data brokers and people search sites which essentially give access to such details to whoever is willing to pay a nominal fee.

Having your personal details easily accessible online can not only lead to more robocalls and advertising calls, but it also increases your risks of falling victim to various scams and even identity theft. Opting out of data collection and taking your private data off the market reduces your chances of becoming a target for scammers, spammers, and criminals.

Updated on: May 30, 2023

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