From the User to the Used. Our Fate If We Continue Accepting Cookies.

Picture of By Polina Osipchuk

By Polina Osipchuk

The dilemma Frodo faces at the tip of the fires of Mount Doom, hesitating whether to throw The Ring in or not, is one that frustrates the audience incredibly. After the hellish journey the two hobbits have gone through, how could he be so weak? Especially now when a better future lies in his hands? Yet, when I open a webpage and the disclosure pops up urging me to accept all cookies, the same weakness Frodo shows, befalls on me: To accept or not to accept?

The recurring data breaches and scandals are not unknown to us consumers, yet it seems we do little to protect our data online. When speculations regarding Instagram listening in on users’ conversations arose, it brought to light just how much detailed personal information online providers can collect from its users. Although Adam Mosseri, the CEO of the app, clearly debunked the rumors, many still remain unconvinced.

Read what Mosseri responded (although it is perhaps the comment section of this article that is more interesting).

This brings us to the questions; How easy is it for marketers to convince us to accept cookies that allow them to use our data in their algorithms to target consumers like us? And why should we be aware of the ways they use to convince us?

What is this blog about?

  • Recent research shows that the way in which cookie disclosures are framed does not affect the extent to which we accept cookies.

  • Marketers have an easy time persuading us to accept cookies

  • Surveillance capitalism is an important reason why we should care about protecting our data

The Research

To look at the influence of how cookie disclosure is framed, an online experiment was conducted in which participants visited a news site (The New York Times), or an online clothing store (Zalando). They were then shown a pop-up cookie disclosure on this website. This disclosure either announced that the cookies were used to offer more relevant advertising, or that the cookies were used to keep the content of the website free of charge.

The Results

The results of the research gave an indication of how easily users can be convinced to accept cookies. It made no difference which argument was used or on which website the cookie disclosure was shown because participants were equally likely to accept cookies in all cases.

Why Should You Care? 

This begins with accepting cookies and targeted ads but ends far beyond our online world as technologies such as Google Home reach our offline world.

Surveillance capitalism. Though one of many reasons, it is an incredibly important one to care about. In her book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff coins and describes surveillance capitalism as an “economic logic in which personal data of users are used as commodities with the core purpose to make a profit.” This begins with accepting cookies and targeted ads but ends far beyond our online world as technologies such as Google Home reach our offline world.

Watch Zuboff’s inspiring talk at the Institute of Art and Ideas.

The same way in which Frodo thought he would have control of ‘The Ring’ where its power is the strongest, Users like us become increasingly attracted to the forcefield of business conglomerates that sell our data for their own economic benefits. Though we may think we are simply users of social media apps and websites, the bleak reality still remains that we are the used.

Mathilda Ekman, 18 June 2021.

SWOCC is a foundation in scientific research on brands and brand communication and makes scientific research findings accessible for practitioners. Twice a year, they organize a blog contest that encourages bachelor students in the field of communication science to elaborate on their theses to make their academic work more accessible and reachable for practitioners in the marketing and communication field.



Cover: Pixabay

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