Consent in the Online World

Online consent is a mirage. Every day we are asked to click yes “I agree” to download the latest software or to use Wi-Fi connections. However, rarely do people read the license agreements or terms and conditions attached to the service. For all we know, we could be agreeing to the sale of our first-born child, as shown in this experiment.

Online contracts remain unread because consumers lack any meaningful incentive for reading the agreement. Before hitting “I agree”, people cannot call up Apple or any other provider and negotiate a different license agreement. We either accede to the terms and conditions or we do not use the service/product.

Although the law has upheld click-wrap agreements, companies should strive for meaningful consent. A better way to handle consent in the online world is to embed permission into the design of the program. The information embedded into the design of the program should be easily understood. And more importantly it should take into account common cognitive biases and errors.

For more information on meaningful online consent read: Guidelines for Online Consent by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner: https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/guide/2014/gl_oc_201405_e.asp

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