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Why the FTC is inspecting dark patterns in digital data privacy and the NAI is bracing for potential regulations

Digiday 30 Apr 2021 04:01
April 30, 2021 by Kate Kaye

Online manipulation is emerging as a new front in the digital privacy battleground.

Researchers say dark patterns — nuanced design elements intended to coerce people into taking certain actions — can be found in the physical environment from the grocery store aisle to casinos. But they’re especially prevalent in the digital world when it comes to things like e-commerce sales tactics and data tracking opt-out notices. And regulators are taking notice.

The latest example of the heightened scrutiny around the use of dark patterns was a Federal Trade Commission workshop yesterday during which researchers called for regulation of the controversial tactics. Meanwhile, at least one digital ad trade group — the Network Advertising Initiative — is already gearing for a fight against any new laws or regulations addressing dark patterns.

Speaking during a panel discussion about how dark patterns affect consumers at the FTC’s Bringing Dark Patterns to Light workshop, Ryan Calo, a University of Washington School of Law professor, suggested that the agency should regulate dark patterns because they amount to the sort of unfair and deceptive practices the agency was established to protect consumers against. 

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Federal Trade Commission
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