March 5, 2024

The provisions of these Terms of Service are onerous and are intended to create friction.

friction It is a technique used to slow down Internet users, either to maintain government control or to reduce customer service burdens. Autocratic governments that want to maintain control through state surveillance without jeopardizing their public legitimacy often use this technology. Friction involves building frustrating experiences into the design of websites and applications so that users who try to avoid monitoring or censorship become so annoyed that they eventually give up.

How cookies affect you

My most recent research sought to understand how website cookie notices are used in the United States To create friction and influence user behavior.

To conduct this research, I looked at the concept of mindless compliance, an idea made famous by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. Milgram experiments— which is now considered a radical breach of research ethics — asked participants to deliver electric shocks to fellow study applicants for a power-obedience test.

Milgram’s research has shown that people often agree to a request for power without discussing whether it is the right thing to do. In a more routine case, I’d guess that’s also what happens with site-specific cookies.

I did a large nationwide representative experiment that presented users with a standard browser cookie popup message, similar to the one you might have encountered on your way to reading this article.

I evaluated whether the cookie message elicited an emotional response – either anger or fear, both of which are expected responses to online friction. I then assessed how these cookie notifications affected the willingness of Internet users to express themselves online.

Online expression is fundamental to democratic life, and Various types of internet surveillance are known to suppress.

The results showed that cookie notifications elicited strong feelings of anger and fear, indicating that site cookies are no longer seen as the useful online tool they were designed for. Instead, they are a barrier to accessing information and making informed choices about an individual’s privacy permissions.

As suspected, cookie notifications also reduced people’s stated willingness to express their opinions, search for information, and break the status quo.

Cookie solutions

Legislation regulating cookie notifications such as EU General Data Protection Regulation And the California Consumer Privacy Act Designed with the audience in mind. But the online tracking notification creates an unintended effect.

There are three design options that can help. First, it makes consenting to cookies more aware, so that people are more aware of what data will be collected and how it will be used. This will include changing the website’s cookie default setting from opt-out to opt-in so that people who wish to use cookies to improve their experience can do so voluntarily.

Second, permissions for cookies change regularly, and what data is required and how it is used should be front and center.

And third, US Internet users must have the right to be forgotten, or the right to have online information about themselves removed that is harmful or not used for its original purpose, including data collected through tracking cookies. This is a provision granted in the GDPR but does not extend to US Internet users.

In the meantime, I recommend that people read the terms and conditions of cookie use and accept only what is necessary.

Elizabeth Stoichev is Associate Professor of Communication at Wayne State University.

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