A Digital Users' Bill of Rights

Graham Ericksen, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer

Graham Ericksen

Partner | Chief Strategy Officer

Illustration of a phone screen showing icons for accessibility, security, and compliance

It’s time for organizations to ensure basic standards are met when engaging users online

User-centered design has brought about incredible benefits for end users. As more companies put users’ needs and wants front and center, digital consumers have enjoyed not just improved usability, but also more products and services that add meaningful value to their lives. However, companies have business requirements to fulfill, and their ability to extract value from digital assets is becoming increasingly fragmented and challenging. This has prompted some companies to engage in techniques that can negatively impact the user experience by interfering with a users’ autonomy or privacy.

With the advancement of AI-powered automation, the relationship between humans and technology is under even more scrutiny. According to the 2024 edition of Edelman’s Trust Barometer, trust in AI in the U.S. declined from 50% to 35% in the past five years. One way to ensure tech innovations live up to their potential without causing harm? Create a set of guardrails that keep people at the center.

The Digital Users’ Bill of Rights is designed to remind business leaders that user-centered design goes far beyond what is on screen. These rights should be considered foundational for all online interactions, regardless of enforceability or legislation. Organizations not only have an opportunity to be user-first, but end-to-end user-first in all aspects of their online development.

The user has the right to their own data

Nearly every website is collecting data in some form, whether for analytics, audience segmentation, declared data, transactional data, or UGC, there is a transfer of trust that occurs. Most data collection happens without the user even knowing. In many situations, this data is generally anonymized and not directly attributable to an individual user. While data collection consent is not required in all jurisdictions, it should be considered table stakes for any online engagement with end users. Users have the right to know by who, how, and why their data is being collected. And they should be able to opt out of data collection, request their data, correct their data, enact the right to be forgotten, and opt out of processing their data.

The user has the right to secure data transactions

There are many websites that require user-submitted data in order to operate. E-commerce, forums, social sites, etc. all require the user to voluntarily submit data. Users have the right to expect that all user submitted data is handled properly and securely to the highest level possible, and that all submitted data is stored, secured, transferred, and analyzed within the allowable scope of the submitted data type. User submitted data should not be used outside of its intended purpose unless the user is explicitly informed. User submitted data should not be sold without user consent.

The user has the right to privacy

Without providing explicit consent a user should never be identified or re-identified. Anonymous users should remain anonymous. Users have the right to have their privacy fully protected and be allowed to interact online without having to surrender their privacy. This can include unnecessary registration, excessive tracking, non-transparent first-party declared data collection, and public content that is gated behind a data request.

The user has the right to minimal interface interference 

User interfaces are becoming, and will continue to become, more sophisticated and complex. At times, companies add to this complexity by deploying features that can interfere with a users’ ability to interact with the page. Interstitials, auto-play ads, modals, takeovers, etc. can all impact the user experience. While we recognize the need for companies to sell ads or monetize traffic, we should also acknowledge that users have the right to limited interface interference. This includes limiting physical interference using modals, takeovers, etc. as well as percent of screen real estate. Ideally, a site should maintain a high percentage of relevant content per page and limit the amount of page real estate devoted to ads or non-content relevant components.

Accessibility should not be an option; it should be a mandate.

The user has the right to accessible user interfaces

Until there is enforcement of accessibility guidelines, users are forced to succumb to widely varying, and at times unusable, experiences. Users have the right to accessible user interfaces across all digital experiences. Companies should recognize the need for wide-scale implementation of accessible engagements even in environments where the need may not be as apparent.

The user has the right to adaptive experiences based on device and bandwidth

Users view content on an array of devices of different sizes that result in countless different resolutions. Responsive design, which uses a flexible grid to scale up and down, was born as a result of the explosion in the variance of screen resolutions. But this is short of a real solution. Users have the right to adaptive experiences that load a layout that considers both screen resolution and the potential bandwidth available. Where responsive design is more restrictive to the rules of CSS, adaptive design makes more conditional considerations in screen optimization. While both can render sites at varying sizes, adaptive will often reduce the page weight and potential bandwidth issues at lower resolutions.

The user has the right to advertising that is consistent with the content

Advertising is an important and necessary component to the digital ecosystem. When done effectively, it can raise awareness, drive engagement, and increase revenue. When done poorly, it can be obtrusive, irrelevant, or worse, inappropriate. Users have the right to see advertising that is generally inline with the content on the property they are viewing. Companies should take the necessary precautions that the advertising they show is inline with their brand. This includes programmatic and remnant inventory which can often deliver unexpected results.

Making the case

Companies should take seriously the needs of their users, but not just through visual experiences. The need for user-centered design is really an end-to-end need that includes compliance and governance standards that should be in place before the user ever arrives. It also includes delivering engagements that adhere to brand standards and brand appropriateness. And, it includes respecting the rights and privacy of your users regardless of jurisdictional requirements.

When the Digital Users’ Bill of Rights is fully respected and honored it makes for a more meaningful engagement with ALL of your users. It means being fully inclusive of your user base. And it means building for the future. Regulations, legislation, and penalties are coming and it’s time for companies to take the Digital Users’ Bill of Rights seriously in order to avoid the high cost of inaction.

Graham Ericksen, Partner and Chief Strategy Officer
Written by

Graham Ericksen

Partner | Chief Strategy Officer

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