Deception is not a sustainable business model.
Customers/Users (whatever name you use to dehumanize them) are people. As such there is a certain set of baseline goals that they need to have fulfilled. Importantly these include: not being made to feel stupid, understanding what is taking place and not being taken advantage of.
I really wish I had a dime for every time that I was approached by some higher-up who wanted to suggest that we set a default value on a web site that would help us to achieve some internal goal by taking advantage of the customer’s lack of attention to detail. Sigh.
You see, usability can be used for both good and evil. And, while tricking someone into signing up for paperless billing or automatic payments does not rise to the level of phishing your account password, it is still the symptom of an abusive relationship.
I like to think of web site content as having karma. It will reap what it sows. If you sell something to someone who didn’t realized they were buying it, you haven’t sold them anything at all. That’s not just contract law, but a good business practice.
Think about the customers who have been unwittingly signed up for paperless billing. Some will realize what has happened. They may be okay with that; they may not. Either way you have passed up an opportunity to connect with them in order to achieve some internal goal. Other users, though, won’t realize they have signed up at all. Will these customers realize that they have a payment due? Will they remain your customer, or will your content’s karma receive it’s payback. Yes, it’s a bitch.
Persuade, inform, incent – yes. Deceive – no.