Congress introduces bipartisan bill to prohibit “dark patterns”

Known as The Deceptive Experiences to Online User Reduction (DETOUR) Act, the bill would prohibit websites and online platforms from utilising deceptive techniques. 

“Dark patterns” is simply deceptive techniques used by websites and online platforms to  manipulate users into buying or signing up for products and/or services that they wouldn’t normally do.

Proposed by US Senators Mark R. Warner (D-Va) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb), the bill would make it illegal “to design, modify or manipulate a user interface with the purpose or substantial effect of obscuring, subverting or impairing user autonomy, decision-making or choice to obtain consent or user data”. 

Warner told the Los Angeles Times:

“Our bill is pretty simple. We just want consumers to be able to make more informed choices about how and when to share their personal information.”

Fischer said:

“These manipulative user interfaces intentionally limit understanding and undermine consumer choice. Any privacy policy involving consent is weakened by the presence of dark patterns.”

Earlier this week, researchers published a draft research paper exploring shopping websites utilising dark patterns to influence users. Researchers analysed  11,000 shopping websites and identified 1,841 dark pattern instances, and 15 ways that the websites manipulated customers. 

Arvind, Narayana, a professor at Princeton and one of the researchers from the paper said

“We found 22 third-parties that offer “dark patterns as a service”. The psychology research behind nudges has been weaponized.

“This is a paradigm shift for regulators: it is no longer enough to make rules for specific types of businesses that are known to be deceptive, like car dealerships or funeral homes. That’s why the DETOUR act that seeks to rein in dark patterns is timely.

“That said, many of the practices that we uncovered are already illegal in the US and the EU, and we hope that enforcement agencies will take immediate action.”

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