What are the laws on this? If I have a simple registration form, can I have underneath it:

[x] Subscribe to the blog
[x] Email me when a new release is issued

Auto checked? Or do they need to be Opt In by law (I remember reading this somewhere). If it makes a difference, we are registered in the UK, and our web server is also UK located.


I'm not sure if people quite understand this question, what I mean is, can I have these check boxes checked by default? I see a lot of sites doing this. It will be presented in a 100% clear and non deceptive way.

  • I think we've already answered this question between us below. You can have them checked by default (i.e. it's legal in the UK). It's just not a terribly good idea to do that if you want to build a list of people who remember subscribing to your blog/newsletter/service.
    – Nick
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 15:25

3 Answers 3


From http://www.ico.gov.uk/for_organisations/privacy_and_electronic_communications/opt_in_out.aspx

If you provide a clear and prominent message along the following lines, the fact that a suitably prominent opt-out box has not been ticked may help establish that consent has been given. For example:

'By submitting this registration form, you will be indicating your consent to receiving email marketing messages from us unless you have indicated an objection to receiving such messages by ticking the above box.'

I would say removing a tick is the same as ticking an empty box, so you're probably OK.

  • I disagree. Failing to remove a tick from a box does not indicate consent to receive marketing email. (The user might not see or read the text next to the box, for example. Clearly they haven't given their consent in this case.) From this PDF: " Failing to opt-out when given the chance is not the same as giving consent." See also this FAQ on consent from the ICO's site.
    – Nick
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 12:27
  • My link is from the ICO's site too, and if the message is clear and prominent then "it may help establish that consent has been given". Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 13:29
  • I agree that it's ambiguous. I interpreted the page you linked to a little differently, because it makes no reference to pre-ticked boxes. They say "In summary, the precise mechanisms by which valid informed consent is obtained may vary. The crucial consideration is that individuals must fully appreciate that they are consenting and must fully appreciate what they are consenting to." I'd suggest that, just because someone leaves a box checked, it is not 'fully appreciating that they are consenting'. But it's open to interpretation, I suppose!
    – Nick
    Commented Jul 4, 2011 at 13:58

In the UK you can set this to be opt in. @Nick has a really good point about people that subscribe accidentally telling some third party that your emails are SPAM and your email rating going down accordingly. There are ways to mitigate against this: send 'circulars' out of a .info version of your domain and do it through a single inbox on 123-reg.com using SMTP to send your 'bulk' at a sensible rate through them and their bona-fide IP addresses. In this way you shouldn't permanently stain your IP address if your emails get marked as SPAM.

You can get browser locale in javascript and set the tick in the box to be un-ticked if the locale is not en_QUEENS_ENGLISH if you don't want to upset any of those American (or other nations lawyers). Then, with an on dom load event you can untick the box to save them the effort.

Also, I think that 'subscribe to newsletter' is not a very compelling proposition. Your visitors need more than that or else their eyes glaze over. If you have something that is what they want and free with a huge tick in it then you have something.

@Nick and @paulmorriss have very good answers on this.


In the UK, you should use opt-in by default. You can only use opt-out to send unsolicited mail in specific circumstances. From the ICO's "Rules on email marketing" PDF:

Opt-out is where you are told that you will get marketing unless you say you don’t want them. Organisations can collect only your email address on an opt-out basis if they can satisfy the exemption criteria:

  1. your email address was collected ‘in the course of a sale or negotiations for a sale’;
  2. the sender only sends promotional messages relating to their ‘similar products and services’; and
  3. when your address was collected, you were given the opportunity to opt out (free of charge except for the cost of transmission) which you didn’t take. The opportunity to opt-out must be given with every subsequent message.

Even if you are eligible to collect email addresses with an opt-out system (i.e. you're selling a product, marketing only similar products, and offer a clear way of opting-out), it's usually a bad idea, because you end up with people on your list who don't remember subscribing and who will report your email as spam. From the MailChimp blog:

Opt-out: This is an old-fashioned way of building your email list where you'd typically have some form for people to fill out (like to receive a free whitepaper or something). Hidden at the bottom of the page would be a little pre-checked box, with something like, "Yes, please sign me up for your email newsletter!" It's sort of a scummy way of doing it, but technically it's legal. We highly recommend against it, because you'll end up with tons of people who don't understand how they got on your list, who won't read your emails, and who will send complaints to the anti-spam authorities to get your server blacklisted. It's yucky, so stay away from it.

Lists are only valuable when they contain subscribers who genuinely want to hear from you. There's little point in marketing and communicating with people who couldn't care less.

As such, double opt-in, where users first tick to receive information, then click a link in their email to confirm their address, is the best way to build a list. If people are prepared to do that, the chances are high that they'll be prepared to open and click links in future emails you send them, and that's exactly the sort of customer you want on your list.

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