Should we still believe in Father Christmas?

This could be the central question asked by Ari Ezra Waldman in this article. A Princeton law professor, Waldman strives to unravel the paradox between, on the one hand, our stated desire to protect our data on the internet and, on the other, our behavior, namely sharing (almost) everything at the slightest incentive.

Far from concluding that our brains are utterly irrational, Waldman explains our cognitive limits — which the designers of digital interfaces blithely take advantage of. One of the examples cited by Waldman is a 2012 study by Lorrie Faith Cranor, who estimated that it would take an average user 244 hours a year to read the conditions of use of every web site he or she visits. There are too many pages for us to read, so we don’t read them. Our blind trust is then magnified by designers who promote the positive effects of our consent by giving us access to better features or benefits, but fail to inform us of what they will do with all the information they collect. These same designers also find a way to circumvent our reservations by pointing out “friends” who have approved all the conditions for accessing the service — just as blindly as us.

These techniques are similar to the intentional misdirection employed by magicians. And from magic to Father Christmas, there is only one small step. But in a world that is overflowing with information, although it might be relaxing to believe in Santa Claus, it’s increasingly difficult to rely on our own freedom of choice.

 

To go further: Cognitive Biases, Dark Patterns, and the ‘Privacy Paradox’” by Ari Ezra Waldman (Current Issues in Psychology, issue 31, 2020)