by Susanne Barth, based on her dissertation
Compared to traditional media, the internet and its associated technologies are probably the most significant innovation of our time. As with many aspects in human lives, technological development is also a double-edged sword. On the one hand, individuals appreciate the benefits of online services. On the other hand, they worry about the tremendous and irreversible consequences that come with those technologies. As technologies become increasingly complex, so too does the realm of what is considered private information. Although much progress has been made in the development of legislation pertaining to privacy protection, it seems that existing regulations, such as the GDPR, are broadly defined and still in their infancy. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that educating the user to gain a thorough understanding of all the technical processes is challenging and technically knowledgeable users will be the exception rather than the rule. Furthermore, the power relationship in the online market place will most likely remain unbalanced, with scales tipping toward large market players. Moreover, the cognitive limitations influencing decision-making, such as biases and heuristic thinking, are very difficult to overcome. To counteract these difficulties and to get closer to the provision of notice, choice and consent, it is important to support the user of online services.
The overall aim of this dissertation was to develop a research-based approach toward empowering online users by ensuring that they are comprehensively informed about the data handling practices of the online services they utilize. Ultimately, educating users about data handling practices will enable them to better protect their privacy by tackling the crux of the online privacy problem: helping users understand privacy settings and policies in a way that requires a minimum of cognitive involvement, time and digital skills, while making users aware of the risks pertaining to information disclosure so that a willingness to take control of privacy online can be fostered.