A number of annoying popup messages online have left me thinking about consent and what it means.
The other day, when I was on one website, I was asked if I wanted to subscribe to notifications and updates. I couldn’t say no. Another website offered me a 20 per cent discount on a paid subscription. Again, I couldn’t say no. And on an app I use, I was asked to sign up for a rewards program. Once again, I couldn’t say no.
The reason I couldn’t say no was that there was no way for me to do this. The choices included “Not Now” or “Maybe Later.” A simple “No” wasn’t included.
If I click one of those choices, I can continue on to the site or app. But then, in a couple of days or possibly the next time I open the app or visit the site, the same message will pop up again. Once again, I’m left with the same two options if I don’t want to subscribe or sign up for notifications.
Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to the wording of these popups. I could click one of the options and continue on my way. It was nothing more than a minor annoyance. This time, however, something about the message caught my attention.
“Not Now” and “Maybe Later” don’t express what I want. Put simply, I need to be able to state if I’m not interested in getting my name on a mailing list, upgrading from the light version to the full version of a subscription or unlocking the full features of an app.
The wording allowed me to give consent if I wanted the additional features, but not to refuse consent. The best I could do was to delay.
This sends an uncomfortable message. The right to agree to an offer should also include the right to refuse the offer.
The word “No” is one of the most important words in the English language. “No” is a way one refuses something unwanted, unneeded or uncomfortable. There is something permanent about this simple word.
Selecting “Not Now” or “Maybe Later” meant I was open to seeing the offer again… and again… and again.
If I didn’t want to see the repetitive messages, the only choices open to me are to subscribe or to abandon the site or service entirely.
There’s nothing new about disregarding the word “No.”
Not too long ago, it was said that in one country, when a woman said “No” to a man’s advances, she meant “Maybe,” and when she said “Maybe,” she meant “Yes,” which is ridiculous. With this premise, how was it possible for a woman to make it clear that she was refusing unwanted advances?
This stereotype should have been considered in bad taste from the beginning.
Since at least the 1980s, there have been “No Means No” campaigns, emphasizing the importance of consent.
One of these campaigns asked the question, “What part of No don’t you understand?”
I haven’t heard the “No, Maybe and Yes” line in a long time, and I hope this means things are changing for the better.
Still, the wording of popup ads has left me wondering if messages about consent have had any real impact.
If a company is asking me to accept an offer, then I need the choice to say “No” to the offer as well. “Maybe Later” isn’t good enough.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.
To report a typo, email: