Eye-Tracking Studies and Mandatory Disclosures

In writing about the Eyetools eye-tracking technology, Chris Sherman says:

“In one study, for example, Eyetools inserted gibberish into E*Trade’s homepage to illustrate that content in a “visual dead zone” doesn’t get read and might as well not exist. Some of the “gibberish” was astonishing—phrases like “FDIC distrusts us,” “No Bank Quality,” and “Will Lose Value”—statements that should have caused even semi-conscious users racing to abandon the page were noticed by only 1 in 25 people!”

This seems especially problematic for any mandatory disclosure regulatory scheme. Effective disclosures require several integrated components:

· disclosures of information that consumers actually care about, as opposed to information that regulators THINK that consumers SHOULD find important

· a presentation of the disclosures in a way that it will actually register with the target audience. As this quote indicates, placement of mandatory disclosures in a user interface “dead zone” is effectively invisible to the target audience. This certainly is consistent with the overwhelming statistics that consumers don’t read EULAs or privacy policies.

So what’s the solution? I don’t think the appropriate answer is to force every possible relevant information into the consumer’s attention sphere. Doing so would only contribute to information overload and may significantly increase search costs/transaction costs. Instead, any mandatory disclosures need to be guided by UI considerations, and that means consulting UI experts (not relying on legislative intuition). It also means that we have to be selective about what information should be disclosed to everyone as opposed to made available only to those who care or left solely to market forces because it doesn’t affect anyone’s decision.