Insights The potential impact of autoplay and autoskip on online safety


Ofcom has run a study into the effect of autoplay and autoskip and the potential impact that such functionality might have on website providers’ ability to implement online safety measures. Whilst we know that alerts warning website users of potentially harmful content play a big role in influencing user behaviour (with 51% of participants in an historic Ofcom study choosing to avoid harmful material), Ofcom wished to gain an insight into the influence of the ‘wider browsing environment’.

In Ofcom’s study, 2,800 adults were presented with six video clips (some of which contained potentially harmful content) in a random order, with the participants being presented with either:

  1. neutral alerts (users could choose to either skip or view the video in question);
  2. an alert combined with autoplay functionality (users could choose to skip or play, but if they didn’t make a choice the default was that the video would play automatically); or
  3. an alert combined with autoskip functionality (users could choose to skip or play, but if they didn’t make a choice the default was that the video would skip automatically).

The results were that in scenario A, just under 25% of participants chose to skip the videos. In scenario B, only 16% skipped the videos (of those who played the video, half of these chose to play, and half allowed the video to autoplay), whereas in scenario C, almost half (48%) skipped the videos (a third of these chose to skip and the remaining two thirds allowed the video to autoskip).

The effect of the alert combined with autoskip functionality is clear – far more participants skipped the video, even though a relatively high proportion relied on the status quo (i.e. the autoskip functionality) in order to skip it.

In scenario B (alert combined with autoplay), a higher proportion of the participants went out of their way and took an active step in order to skip the videos. This indicates that a misalignment between the sentiment behind the alert (i.e. ‘you might want to skip this content’) and the automatic functionality (which defaults to playing the content) is likely to trigger a stronger, more active response from the user.

Ofcom’s conclusion was that, clearly, functionality such as autoplay and autoskip can play a big part in influencing user behaviour online, and we anticipate that Ofcom will expect those caught within the remit of the Online Safety Bill (due to receive Royal Assent in the coming weeks) to make use of such ‘safety by design features’ in demonstrating their compliance with their new obligations.

Ofcom’s report can be viewed here.