How close are we getting to a “papers please” society?

Berlin bleibt doch Berlin. / Photo by Punxsutawneyphil – Flickr Creative Commons

America is edging closer to a “papers please” society, at least when it comes to travel.
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Is “opt-out” always wrong? The Wall Street Journal doesn’t think so

Is pre-checking the box on an online transaction always unethical? I thought the answer to that question was obvious after the federal government weighed in on the issue, declaring it an “unfair and deceptive” practice, and the state of Minnesota fined two insurance companies for opt-out violations.
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On travel sites, the pre-checked box checks out

The pre-checked box, a clever technique that travel companies use to extract a few dollars more from customers booking their trips online, may be checking out.
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Does Priceline pre-check the travel insurance box “for your convenience”?

Joel Peterson says it does — or at least did — when he booked a hotel room through Priceline in February. He made a name-your-own-price bid, which he says was accepted, along with an unwanted trip insurance policy.

Pre-checking, or forcing travelers to “opt out” of a purchase, is a controversial e-commerce practice that drives customers away. It is, however, extremely profitable to the company doing it.
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Oops! I didn’t mean to buy insurance

Question: I recently booked a flight through Orbitz, and a few weeks later was surprised to see a $24 charge on my credit card for travel insurance. I called the 800 number listed next to the charge on my statement and was told that the charge was through a company that works with Orbitz to provide travel insurance.

I checked the Orbitz site and discovered that they sneakily default a checkbox on your online reservation to include travel insurance — in other words, you need to actively uncheck this or else you will buy the insurance.

Of course, I didn’t notice this on my recent online flight reservation. And I’ve used Orbitz many times before, and have never unchecked anything and have never been charged. So obviously this is a new revenue-generating scheme. And it is very underhanded. I contacted Orbitz and the insurance company, without resolution. Each blamed the other entity. Can you help? — Gary Kawesch, Los Gatos, Calif.

Answer: Orbitz shouldn’t have pre-checked a box that forced you to buy travel insurance. And it should have removed the charge immediately when you asked about it — not passed you off to the insurance company.
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