Case study
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The consent trap (report) 16.78 MB
The consent trap (overview) 631.46 KB

This project aims to explore consumer experiences of informed consent regarding privacy on smartphone devices, and to help develop practical resources for privacy professionals who deal with the problem of informed consent on mobile devices.

When it comes to data and privacy, the growing academic consensus is that we need to look beyond informed consent. By contrast, governments and policymakers are seeking to reinforce and improve consent mechanisms. Against this backdrop, we wanted to know what Australians thought about the role of informed consent, especially on their smartphones. We also wanted to know if they had any suggestions on how to fix the 
standard ‘notice and consent’ process.

Six focus groups were held in July 2020 and desk-based research undertaken to identify a 'sweet spot' for notice-and-consent provisions on smartphones. Researchers spoke to 26 participants from Sydney and Coffs Harbour across six two-hour focus groups, held via Zoom.

Findings from the focus groups indicate that participants felt that companies were often trying to trap or trick them. They were also concerned that current models were not sensitive to vulnerable groups; did not recognise how people used technology, and specifically smartphones; and failed to offer any real choice.  When discussing clear failures of consent such as eavesdropping or shadow profiles, participants were outraged. They were also careful to distinguish between sectors. Many felt that government apps offered more digestible information than private apps.

However, participants still valued informed consent. They wanted informed consent to be simple; clear; targeted; logical; relevant; and real-world (with concrete examples). They also gave suggestions on how to improve the process: these focused on three key areas: clarity, governance and design.

Drawing on the above findings, this report outlines three core recommendations:

  1. Keep and repair informed consent
  2. Improve privacy law
  3. Focus on design to support consent and the law
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