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Aarhus researchers free users from annoying cookie dialogues!

Researchers from Aarhus University have developed the browser extension Consent-O-Matic – a piece of software that automatically answers consent pop-ups for you. Experience shows that the time users spend responding to virtually the same consent pop-ups on different websites - every day - is drastically reduced with Consent-O-Matic installed. The browser extension already has 22,000 test users around the world, and now the browser extension is made publicly available for all interested users, and the developers expects a massive growth in number of Consent-O-Matic users.

These days, nearly all websites use tracking technologies to collect data about you. By law, they often need your permission, which is why many websites have “consent pop-ups”.  However, 90% of these pop-ups use so-called “dark patterns”, which are designed to make it very difficult to say no, but very easy to say yes (Nouwens et al., 2020). Although getting someone’s consent by using deception means it is not legally valid consent, the laws are not properly enforced, so many websites get away with it.

To deal with these deceptive pop-ups, a team from Aarhus University consisting of assistant professor Midas Nouwens (Department of Digital Design & Information Studies), associate professor Clemens Nylandsted Klokmose (Department of Computer Science), and programmers Rolf Bagge & Janus Bager Kristensen (CAVI) have developed an open-source browser extension they call Consent-O-Matic, which automatically fills in your preferences when a consent pop-up appears.

‘People should have control over their personal data, but the way these consent pop-ups are designed make it difficult. Clicking through multiple screens and toggling hundreds of sliders for every website you visit gets exhausting and annoying, so it’s easier to just hit the big green button. We built Consent-O-Matic to let people exercise their digital rights, and make it as easy as possible,’ one of the developers, Midas Nouwens, explains.

When you install Consent-O-Matic, you must set your preferences for the kind of data collection you are comfortable with (everything is off by default). Data can for example be collected for advertising, performance monitoring, or personalization. Then, when you visit a website, the extension detects if there is a consent pop-up, and automatically clicks on the correct buttons based on your preferences.

Does Consent-O-Matic work for all websites?

Many websites use the same pop-ups (for example, 90% of Danish websites use the same two pop-ups), and Consent-O-Matic currently works with ~50 different pop-ups. However, there might be other pop-ups out there that the browser extension is not yet able to recognize and interact with.

‘The way it works is that we manually analyze a pop-up to see how it is designed, and then we write the code to click on buttons and check boxes. Sometimes a website might have done things differently, and in that case, we will always try to submit the most privacy preserving settings. Websites might also use a pop-up that we haven’t seen yet, which means Consent-O-Matic can’t detect it. But the user can report the page to us, and then we can add it’ Clemens Nylandsted Klokmose explains and continues; ‘The code for Consent-O-Matic is available open-source on Github (see: https://github.com/cavi-au/Consent-O-Matic), so if anyone want to have a look, or contribute with new rules for a pop-up, they can do that.’

Download Consent-O-Matic today

Consent-O-Matic is a free and open source browser extension, which is available to all interested users in the world, and it can be used on both mobile devices (iOS Safari) and desktop (Chrome, Firefox, Edge & Safari). Download Consent-O-Matic for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple Safari for iOS and macOS.