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What’s the Biggest Lie on the Internet?

How websites are designed to lead us into “agreeing” with things we don’t really understand.

When was the last time you read through the terms of service and privacy policy before signing up for an online service? If you’re like most people, it’s probably been a while.

One reason we don’t read these policies is because they’re incredibly long and complicated. In fact, it would take most people more than ten hours just to read them for Facebook and Twitter, and most require a grade 12 reading level, meaning that many users may not be able to understand the agreements, even if they take the time to read through carefully. 

However, new research shows that there may be another reason for skipping them over: We’re conditioned to do so.

A new website, based on this academic research, explores what’s often referred to as the biggest lie on the internet: That we’re led to click “agree” even though we haven’t read and often don’t understand what we’re agreeing to, and the impact this has on our privacy.

How do we lie?

According to the new resource, we lie when agreeing to the terms of service and privacy policy that we didn’t read or understand when signing up for things like LinkedIn, Reddit, or Craigslist. But it’s not our fault; in fact, most of the time, it isn’t even a conscious choice.

Through careful design choices on apps and websites, we’re being led to agree to the terms of using a service without a full understanding of the policies at hand. This design practice is called agenda setting. Agenda setting subtly changes our understanding of content and its role in the larger ecosystem of media. 

For instance, some articles appear “above the fold” in newspapers, leading us to believe they’re more important than others. A  modern online equivalent of agenda setting is the ordering of search results; some advertisements are given preference to appear before the actual web pages that the search engine has indexed, leading us to click on paid advertisements before organic search results.

When it comes to terms of service and privacy policies online, design choices are made to entice us to click “agree” and ignore the links to important policy documents. This is called clickwrap

Jonathan Obar, the York University Professor behind, describes the process as: “Rather than upsetting users, rather than getting people to think critically about consent processes and the implications of big data systems, the design of the clickwrap keeps us in fast lanes towards the shopping and the fun, clicking accept as quickly as possible, rushing us towards services where the money is made.”

Check out the BiggestLieOnline for more information.

What can we do about it?

OpenMedia has a running campaign to stop the data broker economy and to give people more control over their information – including how companies collect, use, and sell that data without our knowledge or permission.

If you’re tired of being treated like a product, sign the petition to stop the harvest of your sensitive data!

Image credit: viarami via Pixabay

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