It’s the holiday season and you’re laying on your sofa, checking your emails on your phone. A newsletter from your favourite online store boasts a discount that is simply “unmissable”, in their words.
You open it and click on the link in the email newsletter. The store’s website promptly opens, but before you can do any kind of browsing, a pop-up asks you if you would like to “accept all cookies”. Sure, you think. Everyone loves cookies. Who doesn’t love a cookie with a nice glass of milk? You chuckle pathetically at your own silly joke. These aren’t those kinds of cookies, of course. These are internet cookies, which are… well, you aren’t sure exactly what they are, but you know that cookies are oh-so-important when visiting websites and you’ve never had any problems with them, so you tap “accept”.
The prompt changes. “Are you sure?” it now says.
What? Of course I’m sure. You sit up onto the sofa, a little annoyed by the website’s lack of faith in you being able to make your own digital decisions. This has never happened before, you think. It always just goes away after you click “accept all cookies”! Why would it now ask if I’m sure? You sit on the sofa, wondering for a moment. It must be some kind of new internet law to ask people if they’re sure, you think, shrugging. You tap “yes”. The website now shows you a large block of text and asks you to “Please agree with the terms and conditions before continuing.” Are you serious? It’s just cookies, guys. What is the big deal here? Again, you tell yourself it must be part of some new law and blame some menacing looking politician you saw on the news recently.
You click “agree” without even scrolling through the terms and conditions. The prompt finally closes. Finally, now I can browse and shop in peace. Before long, another prompt appears, asking you to download the app. You dismiss it angrily. I just want to take a look at the sale. Why is that so hard? You fantasise about building a website where no one is ever bothered by cookies, apps or anything else; a place where people can shop without being hassled. You see the big red banner on the homepage that matches the campaign you saw in the email.
Just as you tap it, there is a knock on the front door.
You stand up and walk across the living room to go to the front door. You look through the peep-hole. There’s no one there. You open the door, letting in the chilly air of the winter night. On your doorstep sits a brown paper bag. You look at it, wondering if it’s some sort of prank. It’s probably full of rotten food or something. These pesky kids don’t even stop for the holiday season. You really feel old for a second, before you notice that the bag has the logo of the same store you were just shopping on. You crouch down and pick up the bag, confused. I haven’t ordered anything yet. You close the front door and bring the bag inside, putting it on the coffee table. It feels warm. You open the bag.
Inside are six freshly-baked cookies and a note that says “Thank you for accepting our cookies!” Wow. Free holiday cookies! You take a cookie out of the bag, biting into it. It is warm and delicious. The buttery taste peppered with cinnamon reminds you of your grandma, and the cookies she would make every holiday season. You are delighted, as well as a little confused, at the cookies. This must be part of some holiday marketing campaign: they make it look like you’re accepting the internet cookies, when it’s actually the real cookies that you’re accepting. What a brilliant idea! You mentally congratulate the company for having such a great sense of marketing acumen. You get started on a second cookie. After the third cookie, you bring some milk from the kitchen. You eat the fourth one while sipping the milk. The fifth one you dip into the milk before eating. And the sixth one, you keep in the bag, saving it for tomorrow. My God, I just ate five cookies. Ah, well — it’s the holidays!
You’re making a mental note to restart your gym membership in the new year when — another knock on the door.
You wonder what that could be. You hope for more cookies, when another part of yourself tells you that you’ve already had enough. You open the door. Another paper bag sits on your doorstep with the same logo. No way. You take it and open it up. Another six freshly-baked cookies. Oh my God. More cookies! You wonder if this is still part of the campaign or some sort of mistake. Maybe the website didn’t realise I’ve already received my cookies. You shrug and shut the door. You put the new bag onto the kitchen counter next to the old one with one remaining cookie. How are these cookies being delivered, anyway? You haven’t seen anyone around every time you’ve opened the door. Maybe they’re being delivered by drone or something?
You go and sit down to continue browsing the generous, cookie-giving website that you will definitely be recommending to everyone you know when there is another knock on the door.
Okay, now this is just getting unreal. You open the door as excitement — as well as fear — begins to fill up inside you. There is another bag. You’re not sure how to feel. You’re part scared, part annoyed, part happy that there are more cookies and part feeling a little creeped out. Should I call the police? You wonder, bringing the third bag inside and placing it next to the other two. No. What will I tell them? I keep getting free cookies from some website?
There is another knock on the door. You feel frightened. You open it and, sure enough, another bag of warm cookies greets you in cold silence. Okay, there must be some reason for this. Maybe I can contact the website and see if they can sort it out. You put the fourth bag next to the others and go back to your phone, finding a solution. You click “contact us”. You begin chatting with a virtual assistant and you type out your problem just as there is another knock on the door.
You begin to get agitated. “No, thank you!” you call out to the front door, hoping whoever — or whatever — is delivering these mystery cookies will just stop and leave you alone. You send the message to the bot, telling it that you don’t want any more cookies. The bot responds immediately. “Hello,” it says. “Unfortunately, according to the terms and conditions that you agreed to, you are liable to accept all of our cookies.” The bot sends a screenshot of the terms and conditions that you agreed to without reading. “So we would not be able to terminate the cookies without violating company policy. Thank you for contacting us!” the bot says, signing off.
There is another knock at your door, this time louder and more aggressive.
You panic. What do I do? Something pops up in the chat, a survey of sorts. “How would you rate your experience with us today?” It asks you to give a number from a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “sorry to hear that” and 10 being “glad we could help!”. Irate, with the pounding on your front door getting more and more intense, you type “0” and press “send”.
Suddenly, a message appears in the chat. This time, it’s from a human customer service agent. She says, “Hello, my name is Stephanie. I can see that you’ve rated your experience with us as very poor indeed. How can I help to change that, please?” You frantically begin writing to Stephanie, doing your best to ignore the deafening beating coming from the front door.
“Hello, Stephanie. Can you help me with this issue, please?” You then type out your entire problem as the thunderous booms coming from your front door become so forceful that you think your front door might fly off its hinges at any second. You send your problem to Stephanie, and she immediately writes back. “Oh, the cookie problem. Sorry, but we cannot undo the consent you gave us when you agreed to the terms and conditions. According to my notes here, it was 34 minutes ago. Here is your digital signature.” She resends the screenshot that the bot sent earlier. The loud banging continues. The door is about to shatter.
“Listen, I know it’s company policy and all that,” you write, desperately. “But could you just do this as an off-the-radar kind of thing? I really regret agreeing to those terms and conditions.”
There is a pause. Then you see Stephanie typing.
“Alright, here. All you have to do is reset the cookies on your browser.”
“Really? And the real cookies will stop coming?” you ask hurriedly.
You take a second to go to your browser settings, tapping “reset” and watching the screen reload.
At once, the loud banging on the front door stops and everything becomes silent once again. The four paper bags on the kitchen counter are still there, but you understand that that’s because you accepted them and brought them inside so they’re already yours. You go to the front door and, very slowly, open it. There are no bags on the doorstep. You look back at your phone. There’s a message from Stephanie.
“Did it work?”
You type. “Like a charm. Thanks so much.”
“You’re welcome,” Stephanie says. “Is there anything else I can assist you with today?”
“No, thank you,” you write, feeling a twinge of sadness. You wish you could say more to this person who’s in an unknown location perhaps thousands of miles away and whose first name might not even be Stephanie, that helped you when you needed help — unlike that useless bot.
“Well then, I would like to wish you a happy holiday season. Thank you for contacting us.”
The chat closes and it’s asking you once again to give a number from a scale of 1 to 10. You smile brightly as you type “11” and press send. You go over to one of the bags sitting on your kitchen counter, reach in, pull out a cookie and take a bite. It’s still warm and delicious and it still reminds you of grandma. Hm. Still good, you think, chewing.