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When a user is setting up their profile in my web app, I want them to act on 2 different email settings:

1) Permission to email when another user interacts with them (for example, sends them a message)

2) Permission to email about new promotions

Having a checkbox that defaults to unchecked seems like it would have a low percentage of opt-ins, but some laws (for example, the Canada anti-spam laws) require that this be opt-in. Requiring user interaction here seems logical.

What is the current accepted best practice for having users set their email permissions?

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    I don't think I've ever seen this not done with a check box. You should probably just keep it as is. If you want to encourage opting in, then if they don't check either box perhaps pop open a dialog or notification message asking them if they're sure they don't want to receive email notifications. There may be a better way, but check boxes I believe are the "accepted practice". – Josiah Sep 14 '14 at 2:57
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    Checkboxes are incredibly common, but you could always use a little more jazz to drive the point home. CSS Toggle Switch Examples is an article I found that dresses up the checkboxes as a toggle switch (pure CSS), that gives the user more of a feeling of doing something more than checking a box. The mobile analogy might also help drive adoption, since many users are now mobile and used to toggling those switches to get the satisfying green background when the switch is turned on. – phyrfox Sep 14 '14 at 8:11
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First of all I must agree with the comments that having a kind of checkbox to turn on/off email notifications is a good practice. Because this is what they really are, these emails are graphical notifications that have as a goal to drive the user back in the application in order for him to execute an action or get informed. In other words something like that:

email and mobile notification

However one of your issues is also the fact that the web-app is prohibited to start a conversation with the user from email because opting-out is prohibited. The conversation must start on the web side and the user should opt-in.

Actually this is where you have to do the hard work and align your business goal (opting-in) with the user's goal(s)

If you could offer him a unique username in case he opts-in then do that. If you have a strong case of users missing out because they did not opt-in then inform the user of that in a language that fits the brand-culture. I am just throwing ideas over here but after the user has completed an interaction successfully, which means the next action would be just to return to the home page or leave the site then your call to action could be to ask him to opt-in

                                  just for fun, not actual interaction

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