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Active Online Choices: Designing to Empower Users

  • Report
  • 25th Nov 2020

Key findings

  • 💻 We’ve been working with @CDEIUK and @doteveryone to imagine dramatically different ways to give people privacy choices. Take a look at our progress
  • 🔎 Defaults, friction and inconvenient prompts. These are just some of the factors limiting engagement with privacy choices
  • 🔒 We think tech companies can do more to give users meaningful choices over their privacy. We’ve set out how

People cannot meaningfully shape their relationships with the digital technologies that underpin their lives. This leads to imbalanced relationships between people and online services, and leaves users feeling disempowered and resigned to let platforms do as they please with their data. Using desk research, first-hand website audits and expert interviews with people working in the tech industry, we found:

  1. A range of design features and behavioural factors that limit people’s control over their privacy and personalisation settings in a wide range of online contexts, from social media sites to web browsers. These include the use of defaults, opaque language, inconvenient timing of prompts, and excessive friction to find relevant menus.
  2. A number of organisational factors may lead to design decisions that disempower users, despite many tech companies recently taking positive steps to increase engagement with privacy settings on their services. For example, our interviews suggested that user control is often treated as a siloed issue within tech firms, rather than a core design feature with clear success metrics.

This project is a collaboration between BIT, Doteveryone, a responsible technology think tank, and the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, an independent board of experts to help the UK navigate the ethical challenges posed by data-driven technologies.

Today we publish a progress report and a summary of our research to date, including a set of prototypes which aim to overcome the behavioural challenges identified and dramatically improve people’s ability to make active online choices. The next phase of the project will use qualitative user testing and online experiments to assess the performance of the prototypes. We look forward to sharing our findings in Summer 2021.

Read more about the behavioural science of online harms in BIT’s 2019 report.



Chris Wright


Aisling Ní Chonaire

Former Head of Consumer and Business Markets

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Nathan Bookbinder-Ryan


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Catherine Miller


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Sam Jeffers


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