The Erosion of Autonomy in Online Consumer Transactions

Law, Innovation and Technology (2016) 8, 1-37

Posted: 22 Sep 2017

See all articles by Eliza Mik

Eliza Mik

TILT; The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law; Melbourne Law School

Date Written: April 22, 2016


Online businesses influence consumer behaviour by means of a wide range of technologies that determine what information is displayed as well as how and when it is displayed. This creates an unprecedented power imbalance between the transacting parties, raising questions not only about the permissible levels of procedural exploitation in contract law, together with the adequacy of existing consumer protections but also about the impact of technology on consumer autonomy. There is, however, no single technology that threatens the latter. It is the combined, mutually-enforcing effect of multiple technologies that influence consumer choices at different stages in the transacting process, creating an environment of ambient and pervasive manipulation. It starts the moment consumers enter a search term (autocomplete), proceeds through the display of search results (search engine bias), the speed with which a website appears on the screen (traffic management) and concludes with the layout of elements on a website (interface design), to name a few.

Keywords: ecommerce, consumer protection, normative technologies, behavioural advertising

Suggested Citation

Mik, Eliza and Mik, Eliza, The Erosion of Autonomy in Online Consumer Transactions (April 22, 2016). Law, Innovation and Technology (2016) 8, 1-37, Available at SSRN:

Eliza Mik (Contact Author)

TILT ( email )

P.O.Box 90153
Prof. Cobbenhagenlaan 221
Tilburg, 5037

The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) - Faculty of Law ( email )

6/F, Lee Shau Kee Building
Shatin, New Territories
Kowloon, Sha Tin
Hong Kong

Melbourne Law School ( email )

185 Pelham Street
Melbourne, VIC 3010

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