Amanda Liljevall och Emelie Lillskog
Photo: Simon Fredling Jack

One Hundred Companies' Cookies Examined – Over Half Misleading


Amanda Liljevall and Emelie Lillskog, former students at the Department of Business Administration, have reviewed one hundred companies' websites, fifty of which are the most visited in Sweden. More than half of these companies have actively designed their cookie notifications to get consumers to accept the use of cookies. Companies are using what's called 'choice architecture' to steer consumer decisions in their favor.

By using 'choice architecture,' the design of how choices are presented to influence decisions, both private and public organizations make it harder for individuals to say no than to say yes. This can be seen as a form of 'nudging,' subtle pushes that guide people's choices without forcing them, in the company's interest. This strategy offers new insights into the debate over the balance between corporate interests and consumers' online rights.

– The big risk is not pressing 'accept'; the risk is what can happen if the company has third-party cookies and shares that information with other companies the consumer doesn't know about. Your data can be used in a way that's detrimental to you, says Emelie Lillskog, one of the thesis authors and a former master's student in Marketing at the Department of Business Administration.

She points out that there's a risk consumers too easily trust companies that could misuse their information.

– I think that's where the problem lies, trusting all companies not to misuse consumer data in ways that could harm them. Here consumers need to think twice when making their choices,' says Emelie Lillskog.

Companies Guide Consumers in a Direction

Amanda Liljevall, the other author of the thesis done at the Department of Business Administration, adds that the rapid digital media landscape could lead to hasty consumer decisions.

– We humans tend to take the easiest path, and accepting all cookies is the simplest way to get rid of this notification. But companies have a method to try to guide the consumer not to go further and reject all cookies, says Amanda Liljevall.

She believes this places high demands on consumers if they want to reject cookies.

– It may be that you have to click through several screens to even be able to reject cookies, or that information is hidden, so when a consumer goes further, information is concealed in subtabs within the cookie banner,' says Amanda Liljevall.

A cookie banner is a notification that appears when visiting websites. It may include information about what cookies are and a choice you must make. But Amanda Liljevall and Emelie Lillskog argue that cookie banners should be placed in the center of the screen, something that is rarely the case.

– A good cookie banner should be visible and stand out from the other content on the website. It should be larger than 30% of the screen size and have a blurry background. It should also be centrally placed on the screen, says Emelie Lillskog.

The authors contend that many companies do not follow this recommendation.

Emelie Lillskog continues:

– The question then becomes, how big is the cookie banner? Does it disappear if you navigate the site? How large is it in relation to the screen? Is there a blurry background behind it? We have assumed that a cookie banner should be clearly visible, concludes Emelie Lillskog.

How the Master Thesis was Conducted

Companies were analyzed based on 56 criteria related to their choice architecture and how they guide consumer behavior.

According to the study, which can be read here:

  • 58% of the reviewed companies have an 'Accept All' button but lack a 'Reject All' button.
  • 52% highlight the 'Accept All' button with color.
  • 45% require the user to scroll to be able to reject cookies. Using choice architecture is legal but raises ethical questions, especially when it comes to the possibility of saying no to cookies.

By: Simon Fredling Jack, multimedia communicator at the Department of Business Administration.