Numbness as a concept has already been discussed in brief, but needs a more solid exploration for the purposes of this thesis. As we saw in Chapter 2, some of the main problems encountered in informed consent transactions are the similarity of the consent requests, and, particularly in the case of cookies, the frequency with which these requests are made. Cookies, for example, can be set and accessed with each Web page hyperlink clicked on, which could lead to multiple consent requests every minute if each cookie required explicit consent. This sort of inundation of explicit consent requests, as well as the compounding factor of the requests likely being quite mundane, such as setting a timestamp for a visit, would lead to the user becoming frustrated and annoyed. The user would eventually find some way to make the requests disappear as quickly as possible, such as clicking ``OK'' every time. This apathy toward the reasons for and content of the consent requests is what is termed as ``numbness'', and is a serious problem within computer usage.
Some ways of dealing with user numbness have been to allow users to set broad rules for dealing with cookies, such as explicitly allowing the browser to accept cookies from particular Websites, or only allowing the Website itself to set the cookies (and not a third party, such as an advertisement within the Web page). These settings are not usually on by default, however, with the least amount of user numbness gained from the default option of simply allowing the Web browser to accept all cookies, regardless of their origin. This is quite dangerous from a privacy point of view as it allows for things such as advertising companies which display their ads on many different Websites to build profiles of visitors by keeping cookies tracking the sorts of sites users visit.
At any rate, it is the numbness developed from the need to deal with large numbers of frequent consent requests that leads to the acceptability of options such as the Web browser default setting of allowing all cookies. In terms of End User License Agreements, there are similar problems, but with a slightly different emphasis: here the problem is not so much frequency (although the agreements are sufficiently frequent to warrant numbness from frequency alone) but the combination of frequency and length of the text required to be read. With EULAs so long and in such a difficult legal language, and with similar EULAs appearing each time an application is installed, users do not bother to read them. This sort of numbness is also termed information overload [Levy, 2008] because of the inability of people to easily and accurately digest large amounts of information such as these EULAs. When coupled with the ease of skipping past the agreement and moving on to the next stage of the install process, it is easy to see numbness that establishes itself within the user.
With good enough initial design, numbness should not become a problem. Users should be able to, with the least effort (at a glance, for example), gain a reasonable understanding of what is in a license agreement before installing a piece of software, or know what information Websites are gaining from their browsing habits3.4. It is with this in mind that I focus on ways to attain good informed consent with minimal effort on the behalf of the user, with the following theory.