The Assumed Consent Economy

Posted: September 2, 2015 in Uncategorized
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It’s intriguing that in a culture that sees fit to educate young people on ensuring they understand clear sexual consent, there are many areas of business and politics that rely on assumed consent. You might call it the ‘Assumed Consent Economy’.

When I fill in a form to join an organisation, sign a petition or perhaps even receive healthcare, I have to actively tick a box to avoid my details being passed to marketing companies. I am responsible for taking action to make my social network account as private as it should be by default. A cold call will continue wasting my time until I explicitly tell them to go away. Until the ‘Cookie Law’ was introduced in the EU, it was presumed that by visiting a website regularly, you would consent to your personal information being stored on that website. You will be aware of the new era in advertising that targets your browsing preferences, meaning whichever website you navigate to, a ‘suggested’ advert or video will be placed to entice you.

We are often led to believe that this era of Neoliberal Capitalism stands out through its innovation and sparkling products or services that people can’t resist, and yet, you don’t have to look far under the surface to reveal that it is actually built on assuming consent. Assuming consent essentially means that you sign up or pay first and hopefully only ask questions later. If you sign up for pretty well anything online that was free, there’s a good chance your data is being harvested.

Another ironic twist in this modern assumed consent economy is that individual online piracy is easy. Normally only very large corporations can afford to take legal action against this, yet these same companies will doubtless think that using your Facebook pictures without your permission for their marketing is definitely not the same thing. After all, they assumed you had given consent for them to profit from your image, and you have not since ticked a box to remove that consent.

It’s pretty clear to anyone who pays even the slightest attention to Private Eye that every recent government enacts legislation primarily to benefit party donors or companies the ministers involved hold shares in, so some of this can be particularly objectionable to the ordinary citizens affected by said legislation. We are supposed to live in a democracy, so one would imagine that some general consensus is required for particularly contentious policies, but I don’t recall referendums on fracking or privatising the NHS. Ah, perhaps this is another case of assumed consent. In the case of fracking, it seems to take hundreds of thousands of names on countless petitions and people blocking roads by chaining themselves to people and objects to even slow down rotten legislation, let alone stopping it.

Large swathes of our economy and state function on this assumption of consent, and it seems to stretch pretty far. It’s actually business by numbers. Most people are by default apathetic and lazy, so it’s a simple matter of putting the emphasis on opting out rather than opting in. It certainly works, but let’s not pretend we are all captivated consumers queuing up to buy everything that’s offered, when it’s actually foisted on us, hoping we won’t go to the trouble of demanding a refund. Let’s also not imagine our government reacts to evidence or weight of public opinion, rather than forcing through legislation, and convincing us of its necessity in the furious aftermath. You or I would (hopefully) not get away with forcing a product or behaviour on someone, and hoping they wouldn’t react badly, but power does what power will, and remember…you consented by staying silent.


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