Senator Warner Fights ‘Dark Patterns’ Online

April 11, 2019

By Spencer Feingold

Legislation introduced in the Senate this week aims to stop misleading and deceptive data collection practices, known as “dark patterns,” by social media companies, the bill’s co-sponsor Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) told Cheddar.

Platforms “use these tools to, in a sense, trick you into taking activities and giving up data unknowingly,” Warner said in an interview Thursday.

The DETOUR Act — an acronym for Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction — would prohibit social media companies from using deceitful interfaces to harvest personal information.

Examples of dark patterns include obfuscated checkboxes on websites, requiring users to actively opt-out of additional products or services, and misdirecting consumers to more profitable pages on a site.

The bill, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE), would only apply to large companies with over 100 million monthly active users.

“Any privacy policy involving consent is weakened by the presence of dark patterns. These manipulative user interfaces intentionally limit understanding and undermine consumer choice,” Sen. Fischer said in a statement. “Our bipartisan legislation seeks to curb the use of these dishonest interfaces and increase trust online.”

The bill would create an industry group that would register with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and develop standards for social media platforms. The law would also require the FTC to establish enforcement mechanisms within one year and “serve as the backstop regulator.”

On the internet as a whole, Warner said there is much room for improvement.

“We need a lot more transparency in terms of what data is collected and what that data is worth,” he told Cheddar. “We have a right to know when we are being communicated with by a human being or a bot.”

Warner added that young people especially should understand that the data they give up online “has real value and could come back and actually harm them later in life.”