2432: Manage Your Preferences

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Manage Your Preferences
Manage cookies related to essential site functions, such as keeping Atrus and his sons imprisoned within the page.
Title text: Manage cookies related to essential site functions, such as keeping Atrus and his sons imprisoned within the page.


This comic illustrates the complex dialogues often employed by webpage or software designers to hide settings from the user. Many pages provide controls to set privacy-related preferences but make those settings opaque in an attempt to dissuade users from using them. The idea is that a user will become impatient by the confusing options and select the defaults, which provide the site or software with more access or information. This situation is compared to Myst, a 1990s puzzle video game.

Companies which collect or process personal information are required by privacy legislation to give their users the option to withhold personal information, although regulations vary depending on the region-specific laws. The operators of such services usually want to collect as much personal data as they can in order to target advertisements or sell their information to someone else, and wish to incentivize their users not to activate those features. One tactic that is frequently used to accomplish this goal is to provide the user an option which enables all the data collection, but to make the process of disabling the collection time-consuming or difficult. This type of action is generally illegal under the same privacy legislation, but regulation of it has been lax so many companies still try it.

"Atrus" in the title text is the main non-player character in the Myst series. In the first game these people were imprisoned within books. Pages needed to be collected to complete the books, and it was incredibly hard to find a single page, involving extensive laborious navigation and exploration, and the finding and solving of hidden puzzles. In the Myst mythos, the books open portals to other worlds, a little like web hyperlinks. Some sites' privacy settings are similarly labyrinthine. For example, some sites will run scripts from a variety of providers but will only allow users to disable them one site at a time without an explanation of what each one does.

The black background possibly shows how many sites are providing tools to switch between light and dark backgrounds now. For a long time white backgrounds were the usual default style, and only people who understood esoteric browser configurations could redisplay many things with a black background - possibly to help with perceived eyestrain or power usage in certain displays. More recently, it is a fashionable setting for content providers to compose as a selectable option. It is out-of-place for Randall to show a black background, as many of his comics take place in technical computer systems that often have a black background anyway, as most computer terminals still do.

Some browsers and websites do have actual games embedded within their various configuration interfaces. Chrome, for example, has the famous dinosaur game.


[Cueball is sitting in an office chair at a desk in front of his laptop computer. A black zigzag line points to the screen, and above this is shown what is displayed on Cueball's screen. This is shown as a black rectangle, with a white box, with black frame, overlaid over the top of the black section, extending half way above it. The text in this white box is in gray font. Inside the black rectangle are two gray rectangles, with white borders and black text. A small rectangle at the top has "Manage your Preferences" inside it, and a large rectangle below has 6 lines of text.]
Agree to whatever
Transport me to an immersive Myst-like game where I click confusingly-labeled toggle switches, only some of which work, perhaps never to find my way back to the page I wanted.


The title-text originally said "Atrius" instead of "Atrus". A few hours after the comic's release, this was changed.

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It's Atrus, not Atrius!

There's also Atreyu from the NeverEnding Story who was trapped inside a book...
Mind you, there actually was an Atrius in the game's lore: Atrus' Grandfather. (His son (Gehn), also ended up trapped in a book. Twice!) But yeah, it probably should be Atrus in the mouse-over text. - 15:20, 4 March 2021 (UTC) 00:29, 4 March 2021 (UTC)TH

To quote Wikipedia, "Myst is a graphic adventure puzzle video game designed by the Miller brothers, Robyn and Rand. It was developed by Cyan, Inc., published by Broderbund, and initially released for the Macintosh personal computer platform in 1993. In the game, players travel via a special book to the island of Myst. There, players solve puzzles, and by doing so, travel to four other worlds, known as Ages, which reveal the backstory of the game's characters." Just some background on what Myst is. Sarah the Pie(yes, the food) (talk) 00:40, 4 March 2021 (UTC)

I am going to put this on all my future game apps instead of an "auto" or "accept recommended settings" button 02:36, 4 March 2021 (UTC)

In my view this explanation is entirely wrong. In many web sites and apps "Manage Your Preferences" is deliberately confusing or non-functional because the real purpose of the site or app is to install spyware (or other malware) or otherwise compromise users privacy or personal information. The explanation makes this vile behavior appear accidental or even benign. It is not. 03:30, 4 March 2021 (UTC)

You want to say, there are pages out there trying to install malware on my computer, but I can stop them by saying "I do not agree"? I am pretty sure it is just about cookies. Do you consider cookies to be malware? --Lupo (talk) 06:18, 4 March 2021 (UTC)
The only thing the current explanation is getting wrong is that you have to opt out each tracking cookie separately. According to EU law the default option has to be that all non-essential cookies are deactivated (unless, ofc, you click "Accept all"). So if you want to opt out all you need to do is: 1. Find the option to change your preferences (well hidden, as stated in the explanation, in many cases) and 2. find the option to save these preferences (also sometimes very well hidden). If the function is indeed non-functioning and the page is trying to install malware with this then you should consider to never ever visit that page again... Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 10:12, 4 March 2021 (UTC)
I've got bad news for you: some sites don't comply with EU law. 15:50, 4 March 2021 (UTC)
You guys are being so badly trolled by whoever vandalised the article. Websites can't use their preferences to disable cookies, because websites store preferences with session identifying cookies. If a website (rather than the browser itself) is showing you its own preferences dialogue to disable cookies, it is trying to trick you into installing malware. This situation that we are actively living in this article, is a good demonstration of the topic of the joke the comic is about. 16:31, 4 March 2021 (UTC)
On rereading I see that this may have been about only cookies _not_ involved in functioning of the site, which would mean they could indeed store a cookie regarding disabling cookies. I may have vandalised the site myself trying to fix it, unsure. I use the browser preferences for these things, myself. There are a lot of toggle switches in there. 16:45, 4 March 2021 (UTC)
The idea is that you will choose between single cookie which just stores that you don't like cookies and much bigger list of cookies containing your personal identification and being mostly used to target advertisement and track you. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:35, 5 March 2021 (UTC)
"Websites can't use their preferences to disable cookies" Sure they can. Cookies are send by websites, they can totally use their preferences to not send cookies. Of course, there still will be a minimal cookie for the session id and/or to remember the user doesn't want cookies. The preferences are for non-essential cookies, like tracking cookies from every ad the website could display. 10:54, 5 March 2021 (UTC)
Also it depends on the way the website works. I think if it just sets tracking cookies once the page loads, it could be the users decision to ask: Should this cookie be set right now? It would mean that the user is asked everytime he/she refreshs the page, but still, no cookie is needed I think... Actually a website that wants to store cookies in order to generate income, could decide on purpose to not even save the "no" setting as a cookie to annoy the user into accepting cookies. --Lupo (talk) 13:48, 10 March 2021 (UTC)

I'm not sure why the button is specifically referred to as green in the explanation. They can be any color to my knowledge, and the one in the comic is grey. DrPumpkinz (talk) 08:55, 4 March 2021 (UTC)

Holy long winded explanation, Batman![edit]

The following is ONE SENTENCE:

Often things need to be changed inside a browser to view certain websites correctly or safely: clearing or changing or disabling some cookies, changing scripts settings, installing and correctly configuring a plugin for an overlay network, running or configuring a proxy, enabling experimental features, restarting the browser with special flags passed, installing a fork of the browser such as with the tor browser bundle to access onion sites or the beaker browser to access dat sites, or installing and configuring a secondary gateway app such as with freenet, ipfs, or i2p.

Why do we need this doorstopper of a sentence taking up three quarters of the first paragraph alone? Relatedly, why is there so much discussion about cookies in the following paragraphs? (EDITED: I get it, the title text happens to mention cookies as an example of a website preference that a user might be asked to give permissions on. I still don't think that calls for an explanation of the motivators that resulted in the development and implementation of cookies and a comprehensive summary the current legal regulations governing them.)

Meanwhile, if anyone comes to this explanation to find out what Myst is, all they'll learn (if they manage to wade through two and a half dense paragraphs of mostly technical jargon) is that it's some sort of puzzle game. The current explanation doesn't do anything to convey what makes Myst stand out as a uniquely apt analogy. (Ironically, the explanation here seems to be manifesting the very phenomenon that Randall parodies in the comic!)

I'm not trying to rag on the (no doubt very knowledgeable and well-intended) person or people who wrote the explanation originally. But I feel like it's in need of someone who knows how to trim the fat, focus on what's relevant, and make it concise enough to communicate effectively. (Given how long my Discussion post here turned out to be, I'm probably not up to the job ;) ) MeZimm 20:07, 4 March 2021 (UTC)

I agree with the above statements[edit]

I don't believe that the comic is primarily about cookies, but rather the "preferences" settings of individual sites\services. In particular, services like Google Voice have a lot of settings that are unclearly (or even incorrectly!) defined on the configuration page, are no longer applicable to a prior use case, or (frequently the case with many Chrome flags) no longer function at all.

(Also, the first paragraph mentions sites sometimes needing cookies to be "disabled" for some features, but obviously that's backwards: Users turn cookies off (especially 3rd party ones) for privacy & security reasons; some websites rely on them being turned on for selection, usage, & preference tracking functions (or just for revenue). Pages (almost?) never need cookies disabled; they need them enabled. Again, I don't believe the comic is primarily about toggling cookies on & off. That's (unfortunately) just one toggle! Site preferences pages are certainly the topic of this comic, in my opinion.)

The explanation barely mentions Myst at all until the title-text, so far. I think most people needing an explanation will want to know in what way navigating unclear preferences feels like playing Myst (a game which may likely pre-date most xkcd readers!)...

I myself never played through Myst (pretty graphics & storylines have never appealed to me, in games). I remember that one puzzle basically involved flipping toggles until a correct combination was achieved, but that's about all I know of the game. The description of the characters trapped in books was news to me, & sounds a bit like a veiled in-game analogy for web pages?

Feels like we've buried the lead, here. Surely the explanation of how navigating site preferences can be like playing Myst (& what Myst even is) should be right up near the top? ProphetZarquon (talk) 21:04, 4 March 2021 (UTC)

The phrase you want here is "buried the lede" . . . . https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lede 12:15, 6 March 2021 (UTC) Nope. That's an obsolete spelling, which I've literally never seen used in my lifetime. "Leading" & "our lead story" are the modern usage, & I'd guess publication of "burying the lead" probably outstrips "burying the lede" by a wide margin in the last 40-plus years. Annoyingly, the metal "lead" & the proactive action "lead" both have the same spelling in modern english, & accordingly the phrase has shifted to modern spelling in modern usage. Frankly, we should probably still spell it "lede" because the verb & the noun have such dissimilar meanings. English is a terrible language. ProphetZarquon (talk) 19:03, 6 March 2021 (UTC)