Thursday, December 25, 2014

Passive Consent by Giselle Renarde

It feels wrong to rant on Christmas, but I'll have a go for those of you who aren't big on holiday cheer.

Maybe this has happened to you:

You get a newsletter from a fellow author (assuming you're an author, I guess) and you ask yourself, "Did I sign up for this person's mailing list? Nope. I didn't even know they had one. I'm 100% certain I didn't."

And yet I'm getting this marketing email. Why?

Because this person is someone I know. A friend or acquaintance, maybe someone I was in contact with about something or other, an author I helped or swapped blogs with or offered a guest spot at Donuts and Desires.

And they signed me up for their mailing list. Without my consent. So now I'm receiving this email about "yay my new book is out and you should buy it, blah blah blah."

I'm not complaining about newsletters. I send out a newsletter... to the 19 people who have elected to receive it. Nobody else. Just those people. I never have and never will add a business contact's address to my marketing mailing list, and to be perfectly honest, I lose A LOT of professional respect for those who do this to me.

And it's a lot of people! Enough that I'm ranting about it on Christmas.

If you've been into the eggnog, you're probably going, "Who cares? Just unsubscribe and get on with your life." And I do unsubscribe, but the point is that I shouldn't have to. I don't subscribe to ANY mailing lists with my professional email account (I have other accounts for that) because it clutters things up.  If I haven't elected to receive your emails, you're spamming me. Dirty word, but there it is.

This probably sounds especially cruel when some of the people I'm talking about are people I regard(ed) in a friendly/professional/acquaintancey way. I feel like I've placed my trust in them and they've betrayed me.

Same goes for whoever gave/sold my email address to an LGBT PR mailing list.

Yes, I'm queer. Yes, I'm an author with a blog. But I'm not a blogger nor am I a media outlet. Do I want to receive press releases about every goddamn sissy weekend in the Poconos? No!

(I'm not saying that flippantly or picking on sissies--I really do get these press releases. Every one of them!)

What's worse, PR mailing lists get sold off to whoever has the money to buy them and the PR people sending me PR emails don't use programs that allow the receiver to unsubscribe.  The only way I can *hopefully* get them to stop emailing me is to contact them directly and say "please take my address off your list" and risk looking like a dirtbag. I cross my fingers and hope they'll actually do it, but not ONE PR person has ever replied.

There's another angle to this whole passive consent thing I want to cover really quickly (let's hope--we'll see) and that has to do with television and advertising. This is something I encounter a lot, living in a big city, and I don't like it.

When the Oprah Network (OWN) was gearing up to enter the Canadian marketplace, they set up a couch in the square outside Toronto's City Hall.  I think they were trying to create some CanCon (Canadian Content), and there was a film crew with an interviewer trying to draw passersby into a conversation for whatever show they were producing.

I know this because I happened to be walking through the square when this was going on.  It's not unusual to encounter film crews in Toronto, but usually if you cut through their shot they yell at you. This was different. There was a sign that read something to the effect of "by entering this area you consent to being broadcast on television."

Ummm... NO.

By walking to CITY HALL on CITY PROPERTY, I consent to appearing on your show? No. If you ask me, "Do you want to be interviewed?" and I say, "NO," my words are moot because I've already provided passive consent simply by walking by.

This is where passive consent gets scary, to me: when some entity tells me that by the time I've read your consent form, I've already given my consent.

I encountered this sort of thing again at the CNE (Canadian National Exhibition, a big fair that takes place every summer): there was a food truck alley going on, and one of the food trucks belonged to Hellman's. They were giving out something, I think for free, I think fries--I don't know. I didn't go anywhere near the truck BECAUSE there was a sign (easily missed in a crowd, I might add) that stated by approaching the truck you are consenting to potentially appearing in their advertising campaign.

No. No, your free fries are not payment enough to appear in your TV and YouTube spots.

If you're going to complain about anything on Christmas, it might as well be this. I'm really tired of the assumptions professionals and organizations are making about what constitutes consent. Consent is saying YES. Passive consent is no consent at all.

And if you're really bummed out by this post, I put up a short story at Donuts and Desires as a little "Merry Christmas" to readers. It's called Bad Bad Naughty Bad Santa: A True Lesbian Sex Story.


  1. Please put me on your mailing list, Giselle.;^)

    Yeah, I know what you're talking about. I've just accepted it.

    1. oh, and now I am off to read your naughty story!

    2. I am serious about the mailing list, btw!

    3. I second Lisabet's comment about the mailing list. I need to figure out how to sign up for that!

  2. I tell ya, Giselle, you would love Facebook, with acquaintances asking you every five minutes to "like" their fan pages. (Though at least they can't just add you without your consent.)

    The story is squirmalicious!

    By the way, do you have a public e-mail address for those of us who might want to drop you a line (and not spam you!)?

  3. Giselle:
    Thanks for promoting my book. I loved your story and tweeted to the world at large.

    About a week ago I got the next level of non consent. Every so often Facebook sends around these notices that the terms of service are changing. After that happens I start getting Facebook notices on my smartphone, something I decidedly don't want. Then I have to craw into the setting section and spend a half hour resetting so I won't get notices. Well, one of my friends created an on line , awareness raising, "event" that was occurring all through November and December. It posted a reminder on to my calendar for 45 days. I was furious. It took me the better part of two hours to get that stuff erased. It only took me about 30 seconds to "unfriend" that person.

    Tomorrow is Boxing Day, maybe we should recast this holiday, put on the gloves and punch someone out -just in cyberspace-someone who is really annoying. Wait! My post goes up tomorrow-nix, nix, bad idea.

  4. I joined FB only to be in touch with Naughty Nights Press' inner sanctum of writers. Gina Kincade over there passed on the good sense to limit my FB involvement to only who I actually wanted to include and be in touch with. Man, was that good advice.

    Your story is sure frustrating enough, but where's your flasher?

  5. The worst on Facebook is when people ask to friend you, and if you accept (because they seem to share mutual friends) they're asking you to "like" their page within minutes. The ones who ask you to play games would be even worse, except that their requests don't pop up on your page.

    Great Christmas story on your blog! Bright and shiny, sweet and sexy!

  6. Gah! Blogger just ate my comment again. That's so annoying. No... FRUSTRATING! LOL

    I didn't think I'd get any comments on Christmas. Guess I'm not the only one who can't stop working.

  7. You have my sympathy, Giselle. (Actually, though, I wouldn't mind seeing more film shoots in Regina, where I live, and where films/shows rarely seem to be made any more since the provincial gov't -- to the right of the Conservatives and Gengis Khan -- axed the Film Tax Credit in 2012. But I digress.) All this aggressive marketing points to a deeper problem: how do writers find a market for our work without harassing other writers? However, there should be limits.

  8. I also am super-frustrated by being auto-signed up for lists. If you use a service like Mail Chimp, they actually really go out of their way to educate people about these issues. It makes it doubly uncool when people ignore that and add you anyway.

    And I agree about your concern as far as passive consent more generally. The default should pretty much never be to assume you've consented to something.

    I'm sick beyond death of aggressive marketing, writers harassing other writers, and peer pressure to do the same. There has to be a better way. I'll let you know if I ever find it.


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