FTC Report Targets ‘Dark Patterns’ Misleading Users Online

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The Federal Trade Commission released a staff report showing the growing use of “dark patterns” to trick consumers into buying products or giving away their information, and therefore their privacy, online.

The report, titled “Bringing dark patterns to light”, (opens in a new tab) was released at the FTC’s September public meeting — where it was approved by commissioners 5-0 — and stems from a workshop in April 2021.

The report quoted the case of smart TV maker Vizio (opens in a new tab)which reached a multimillion-dollar settlement to settle FTC allegations that it had enabled a default setting that allowed the company to collect and share TV viewing activity with third parties, but did so without sufficient notice to consumers, including giving the setting the vague and pro-consumer name “Smart Interactivity”.

“While dark schemes can stealthily manipulate consumers, these practices are squarely on the FTC’s radar,” the report concludes. This includes where these practices have violated the CAN-SPAM Act and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

The Network Advertising Initiative agrees with the FTC’s “goals” of cracking down on efforts “designed to mislead and entrap consumers, including disguised advertisements, hard-to-cancel subscriptions, buried terms, and tricks to obtain data”. But he suggested the answer is self-regulation.

The NAI pointed out that it had been recommending for months that its member companies follow its NAI Best Practices for User Choice and Transparency (opens in a new tab). ▪️

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