Previous work in informed consent concepts in an information technology context includes work by Friedman et al. (2000) on a practical foundation for informed consent in Internet transactions. Friedman's work on implementing Value-Sensitive Design3.1 in the Mozilla Web browser uses the value of informed consent as the focus for the project [Friedman & Howe, 2002]. In their paper the authors establish informed consent as a worthy value in online interactions, but also add an additional criterion for informed consent, that of ``minimal distraction''. Informed consent procedures in information technology need to be easy to use, yet maintain the quality of the consent decisions even as users consent to similar agreements, such as End User License Agreements, time and time again. These procedures also need to avoid disturbing the user needlessly, such as in the Web browser cookie problem (see section 2.2), where it was shown that there are many multiple requests for consent offered in short periods of time. Asking the user in this situation for consent each time would quickly annoy the user and encourage them to either ignore or disable the consent request mechanism, or become ``numb'' to the requests (and the importance of the requests), accepting each request without looking closely at it.
These interactions differ significantly from those in medical contexts in that there are frequent, small, similar interactions, such as EULAs and cookies, rather than the occasional important interaction. Also, the interchanges that occur that require consent to be acquired are often interchanges that are highly likely to be persuasive to procure a favourable result to the vendor, so taking advantage of user ``numbness'' would be beneficial. We have seen this happen in the previous chapter's case studies. However, Friedman et al. (2000) simply look at the online interactions with cookies, and not with a greater sense of the many similar consent requests that computer users are inundated with, since not all of those (like EULAs) are particularly distracting3.2. Thus the concept of ``minimal distraction'' is not enough, and should be incorporated into a concept that appreciates the greater problem of numbness instead.
Friedman et al. also concentrate their analysis on the relationship between a user and a Web site [Friedman & Howe, 2002]. Although this is a suitable restriction within the context of their work, in developing a more generalised theory a wider set of relationships needs to be established in order for greater applicability across a range of situations encountered in information technology settings. Such relationships include user-to-vendor, user-to-developer, or other relationships involving stakeholders.
In the next sections I discuss in detail some of the concepts I believe important to keep in mind when exploring the issues of informed consent within information technology. Firstly I investigate the techniques behind the Friedman et al. study of informed consent in the Mozilla browser. This is a focus for my analysis since the Friedman study is the only study that has been carried out specifically on informed consent in information technology. In the next subsection, I discuss Value-Sensitive Design, and its strengths and limitations, and in doing so explore the importance of the identification of values. Secondly, I examine the problem of trust within informed consent issues, since so many Internet transactions currently require users to have a certain amount of trust in the infrastructure and companies involved. Finally, I examine the issue of ``numbness'' in more detail, a problem that I feel is unique to information technology consent situations (or at least completely new to the informed consent sphere, since it is apparently not a problem within the medical or legal fields).
Each of these concepts is extremely important for understanding how the theory in the second part of this chapter is developed.