🙅♀️ maybe (no)
a digital do not call list
No is a complete sentence. But too many digital experiences have swapped “no,” for “maybe,” trapping consumers in a loop where they repeatedly need to decline a company’s invitation to continue reading online (in a web browser) rather than in an app. Is anyone else haunted by these invitations? I notice them the most with newspapers and Reddit (*but want more examples - where do you see them?). Substack has an app, too. 😉
Redirecting readers to an app environment may improve overall ‘engagement.’ It also allows the company to capture more detailed information about consumer behaviour/consumption within the app. That’s lucky for the firms that are able to successfully coax eyeballs there - congrats (!) - and pitched as luxurious for us because we probably get a ‘personalised’ news stream. Of course, that trade off is not (ever) made clear. In fact, no rationale is offered beyond the vague claim that the “experience” is better in the app. I guess there’s only one way to find out.
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Given that Canada just passed the Online News Act (C-18), these app environments have a renewed resonance. Instead of clicking on a story from Instagram or Facebook (Meta will end access to new content), people have to find new digital homes; which is primetime for news apps. Maybe my aversion to spreading my reading across apps is silly since it’s just a few taps. But I want to be able to say no, too - once and forever.
Americans have been able to opt out of telemarketing lists since 2003. In Canada, we have the National Do Not Call List (DNCL) which came into force in 2006. It’s free and you can complain if telemarketers contact you after that. Plus, you can pay to block spam calls from your landline, and the option is generally free with your cell phone. For me, this is a decent parallel. Instead of saying “maybe” to every telephone solicitation, you can say - wait for it - NO.
*Now, spam phone calls come from masked numbers, making blocking them a fruitless game of whack a mole. Nonetheless, declining inbound solicitation is familiar to us - think of how people tape little notes over their mailboxes declining flyers (do those work?).
The unequivocal “maybe” feels like deceptive architecture because it erodes our resolve until we finally perform the activity that the company is hoping for.
Maybe my ~experience~ browsing on the web IS substandard compared to the fancy infrastructure of an app. But the rationale for bouncing off the browser is poorly articulated, and I just want to be able to say no, once (maybe). We need a digital do-not-call list - could be associated with our IP or some other online signifier.
*Here’s the thing - while it’s tempting to ‘design’ a digital do-not-call-list, it may not be technically possible. IP address isn’t the right vector (it cannot be secured and is easy to spoof), and in order to definitively know that a ‘user’ is on the list, a system would have to be algorithmic (my friend explained this to me). So maybe this is a little design challenge - and a good example of why and when policy people either need to talk to or be technologists.
I have a short paper forthcoming through a partnership between McGill’s Centre for Media, Technology, and Democracy and the University of British Columbia’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions. It’s part of a series on platform governance.
My project uses Shopify’s app store as a case study to consider how deceptive digital architecture [think: stressful claims that are basically impossible to verify, designed to drive customer conversion (the sale) like countdown timers (and other stuff] embedded into e-commerce. I basically ask whose responsibility that is to screen and whether regulators should care.