The Detour Act, which Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) has cosponsored with Deb Fischer (R-NE), would bar digital platforms with more than 100 million monthly users from using deceptive design tricks known as “dark patterns,” a term coined in 2010 by UX researcher Harry Brignull. If passed, the Detour Act would create a professional standards body in the FTC and outlaw the following types of common ploys.
Social platforms release more information to brokers than you realize. Also known as “Privacy Zuckering,” after Facebook’s CEO.
For Example: Facebook shares user data with advertisers by default. Users must change settings manually to opt out.
Page or app design purposefully focuses your attention on one thing to distract your attention from another.
For Example: Airbnb displays “per night” prices for listings, but other expensive line items such as cleaning, service fees, and tax aren’t shown until the booking process.
Advertisements are cloaked as other kinds of content or navigation, in order to elicit a response from you.
For Example: Although Google’s advertising platform has regulations against them, some ads it displays use fake “download” buttons to trick users into clicking on them.
Bait and switch
Software entices you to do one thing, but an undesirable thing happens instead.
For Example: Microsoft was criticized in 2016 when users noticed that hitting the X on a software update pop-up would actually download an app instead of closing the window.
The option to decline or opt out of a function or service is worded in such a way as to make users second-guess themselves.
For Example: To cancel Amazon Prime, users have to push buttons that read “Cancel membership and end benefits” and “I do not want my benefits.”
A site asks for your email or social media permissions under false pretenses, then spams your contacts in a message claiming to be from you.
For Example: LinkedIn settled a class action lawsuit in 2015 for spamming users’ entire email contact lists when they clicked an “add to your network” button while signing up.
A version of this article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Fast Company magazine.