U.S. Lawmakers Introduce Bill to Ban Companies from Using ‘Dark Patterns’ and Deceptive Practices That Steer Internet Users Into Making Bad Decisions

Even if you’ve never heard the phrase “dark patterns,” you’re almost certainly familiar with them. They’re the sneaky ways online companies trick you into agreeing to stuff you’d normally never assent to.

Classic example: You encounter a prompt asking if you want to sign up for some program or service, and the box is already checked. If you don’t uncheck it — that is, if you do nothing — you’re enrolled.

A bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress that would prohibit websites and online platforms (hi, Facebook!) from employing such deliberately deceptive tactics, and would empower the Federal Trade Commission to crack down on sites that keep trying to fool people.

The Deceptive Experiences to Online User Reduction Act (a.k.a. the DETOUR Act) is the brainchild of Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.). They’re hoping the legislation will be included as part of sweeping privacy regulations now under consideration in the Senate Commerce Committee.

Warner and Fischer will be hosting tech and privacy experts on Tuesday for a Capitol Hill seminar on the various ways consumers can be hoodwinked online.

“For years, social media platforms have been relying on all sorts of tricks and tools to convince users to hand over their personal data without really understanding what exactly it is that they’re handing over,” Warner told me.

He said website developers aren’t stupid. They closely study behavioral psychology to understand how internet users can be most easily misled.

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

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SOURCE: DAVID LAZARUS, The Los Angeles Times