On Building Consentful Tech
On digital consent and user’s rights
Now more than ever, we are closely connected with our digital bodies. Along with that close relationship with our digital lives, the importance of the issue of consent over our digital selves is at an all-time high. Why? Because our digital existence has truly become an inseparable extension of our lives, and because despite the close connection, our digital existences are not receiving rightful protection.
In the contemporary society where we are surrounded by various services, the most common form of consent we makeover our digital selves are the Terms and Conditions we often don’t even bother to read it through and press that “Accept all” button. Terms and conditions often are written in an incomprehensible way for the users, giving no choice for the users to accept the term without really knowing what they are giving consent to. This is not consent, but an exploitation of the user’s rights through loopholes within the law.
Consent occurs when both parties fully understand the proposal or desires of each other and agreeing to those terms. Terms filled with legal jargon, illegible text size, misleading descriptions cannot be part of the consent. But many services exploit and trick the users to buy, sign up for things, and give out private information. More realistically, 92% of children in the U.S. already have an online presence before turning 2 (Parents posting pictures of their babies also count as part of online presence), and 45% of 10 to 12-year-old kids have social media account. These numbers come with an interesting fact that Advertisement technology companies hold 72 million data points on a child by the time they turn 13. Is it right for these companies to exploit the data privacy of underage children who probably don’t know what they are signing up for? Technically yes. It is legal. But it isn’t a good UX nor an ethical one either.
I think the first step of building a more consentful tech culture is to have everyone acknowledge that our digital body is no longer separate from our physical body. We have to realize that our digital existence, though not visible or apparent, is part of our identity. Many users don’t see their digital body as part of themselves because it is not tangible, and the exploitation of it does not have direct visible consequences. But we as a community and society need to understand that as we have our consumer’s right when buying a product from any kind of store, we also have our user’s right to be protected from exploitation.