U-M researchers play role in creating new California privacy choice icon

August 3, 2023
Written By:
Safa Hijazi, Michigan News
California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) icon.

California recently enacted a new online privacy icon designed to empower users with greater control over their personal information.

And researchers at the University of Michigan’s School of Information led the research in creating the icon, which simplifies privacy choices for consumers.

Florian Schaub, U-M associate professor of information, said there was a potential to aid California in creating the new icon, including a study with the state’s consumers. Different styles of icons were tested to get consumers’ reactions and consolidation was the most important aspect of the design, he said.

Rather than having multiple links for different aspects of a privacy policy, one link is shown to be most effective and easy to understand. Implementing clear opt-out options and concrete privacy choices will benefit consumers by simplifying their control over personal information, Schaub said.

Florian Schaub
Florian Schaub

“The worst misconception would be users thinking their data would be sold,” he said.

Schaub, former UMSI doctoral candidate Yixin Zou and researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Fordham University worked with the California attorney general’s office to conduct research to find out the misconceptions that some users were experiencing from different privacy icons. Several rounds of research and testing were conducted to eliminate misconceptions and ensure the icon’s effectiveness in conveying the essence of privacy choices, the researchers said.

The main question asked in creating a successful icon was: “How do we visualize choice?” Schaub said it is vital for consumers to understand that they do not have to opt in when a company asks to access their data and that they have the option to decline.

In the end, the new icon includes a blue check over a white background next to a white X sign over a blue background with a single link titled “Your Privacy Choices” next to the icon.

Schaub said that he would also like to see more safeguards in place when it comes to protecting consumer data.

“An opt-out button for sharing data is just not enough to protect consumers. People assume that there are laws in place that protect them and their data, but that is just not true,” he said. “In the United States, a lot can be done with consumer data, and because some people don’t know that there is an opt-out option, they won’t click.”

Schaub would like to see better default protections, such as automated opt-out signals and protections through browsers. There is too much placed on the consumer to protect their data and companies should have clear conversations with consumers about what they do with their data, he said.