What are 'Dark Patterns' and Why Is Congress Trying To Stop Big Tech From Using them?
Photo Credit: POLAND - 2019/01/30: Social media logos are seen on an android mobile phone. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

What are 'Dark Patterns' and Why Is Congress Trying To Stop Big Tech From Using them?

For big tech platforms, data is currency, and many aren’t afraid to use deceptive methods to get it. Now, Congress has introduced a bill that would stop big tech platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google from gathering data through manipulative tactics.

On Tuesday, Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced the DETOUR (Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction) Act. The bill aims to prevent platforms with over 100 million monthly active users from utilizing “dark patterns.”

The term was popularized by the website https://darkpatterns.org/. Essentially, it’s a trick websites use to get you to sign up for or buy items you don’t want to buy. It can also be used to gather personal data.

According to a press release from Warner, dark patterns draw from “extensive behavioral psychology research.” Warner also said they’re often implemented by social media platforms as a way to mislead users into “agreeing to settings and practices advantageous to the company.”

An example of dark patterns would be the maze you have to go through in order to delete your Amazon account, as outlined by the video below.

“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 they are consenting to,” Warner said. “Our goal is simple: to instill a little transparency in what remains a very opaque market and ensure that consumers are able to make more informed choices about how and when to share their personal information.”

The Federal Trade Commission would enforce the bill, according to its current draft, along with an outside body registered with the agency. It would act as a self-regulatory body, providing guidance to platforms on design practices that impair users’ autonomy, decision-making, or choice.

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