If a user doesn’t know they gave consent, did they?


Android users trying to #DeleteFacebook discovered that Facebook had been harvesting metadata from their phone calls and text sessions. That’s kind of a big deal.

Facebook says users granted permission for the harvesting. But recently, TeamBlind surveyed 1,300 Android and Facebook users and asked them if they gave permission to share metadata with Facebook. 89 percent said no.  

To me, this raises several important questions.  

First, what is Facebook’s responsibility to make sure people understand such things? Most users I know habitually breeze through the legal mumbo jumbo when accepting terms and conditions. They choose not to read them. On the other hand, the “readability” of such documents is determined entirely by Facebook. Non-lawyers often struggle to focus the mind on jargon-filled lawyer talk. If Facebook knows this and presents unreadable permissions, they’re using obfuscation to get something of monetary value from users while knowing that most users will be unaware of the extraction. If Facebook doesn’t know this, are they incompetent?   

Second, and more importantly, if consent is given technically, but not consciously, was consent really given? (I’m not talking about a legal standard. I’m talking about a philosophical or ethical one.) Is it possible to give consent without knowing you did so?