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  • Report
  • 18th Aug 2021

Active Online Choices: Designing to Empower Users

Key findings

  • Today BIT and @CDEIUK have published our final report investigating Active Choices; choices that empower users to better control and understand their online environment
  • In the smartphone and web browser experiments, simplified and bundled privacy settings were shown to better enable users to make choices in line with their preferences.

Digital products and services are integral to modern life, but awareness of how they operate is low, and they are not always designed to easily allow us to use them in ways that align with our individual values or needs. This can range from controlling what data services collect about us, to the kinds of content shown in our social media feeds and the advertising we receive. 

Designing services that enable people to use them in line with their preferences is an important part of creating a positive technology landscape, and this is gaining recognition among policymakers, regulators and industry. 

We worked with the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) to explore and demonstrate how to create ‘active’ choices; choices where individual users are empowered to better control how they use digital products and services, and have a clear understanding of the consequences.

We conducted desk research and workshops to develop prototypes that demonstrate what active choice could look like in three online contexts –  smartphone, web browser and social media. We then ran three Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs), each with c. 2,000 participants. These tested the participants’ ability to make informed choices about their privacy and personalisation settings using the new designs against a control. The control and alternative designs were compared using the following measurements:

  • Task accuracy – could participants adjust settings to match the preferences of a fictional persona?
  • Understanding of consequences – could participants correctly indicate the implications of their choices?
  • Feelings of control – asking if people felt in control through a survey question

This project did not seek to develop specific designs that could be implemented by industry, but instead set out to illustrate what is possible and to generate ideas that inspire and provoke change through proof-of-concept.



Natalia Shakhina

Senior Advisor

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Rosanna Barry

The Behavioural Insights Team

Aisling Ní Chonaire

Former Head of Consumer and Business Markets

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Nathan Bookbinder-Ryan

Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation

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Catherine Miller

External Advisor

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Sam Jeffers

External Advisor