California is banning companies from using 'dark patterns,' a sneaky website design that makes things like canceling a subscription frustratingly difficult
Californiabanned companies from using " dark patterns," or tricks to get uses to sell information.
- About one out of every ten e-commerce websites uses dark patterns, according to a 2019 study.
- Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are calling for greater regulation over dark patterns.
California on Monday announced new protections for residents seeking to protect their personal information.
As of March 15, the California Consumer
"California is at the cutting edge of online privacy protection, and this newest approval by OAL clears even more hurdles in empowering consumers to exercise their rights under the California Consumer Privacy Act," Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a release. "These protections ensure that consumers will not be confused or misled when seeking to exercise their data privacy rights."
What are "dark patterns"?Dark patterns are website designs that companies use to manipulate user behavior. User experience expert Harry Brignull coined the term in 2010.
Brignull identifies many different types of type patterns, including:
- "Roach motel," or when a user signs up for a service easily but has a difficult time canceling
- "Price comparison prevention," or when e-commerce websites make comparing the prices of two products difficult
- "Misdirection," or when website designs purposefully focuses user direction on one thing to distract from something else
Retailers aren't the only ones using dark patterns. In 2018, TechCrunch reported scammers had used dark patterns to trick iPhone users into signing up for expensive app subscriptions. A study by a Norwegian tech watchdog found Facebook and Google use dark patterns to push users into making decisions that can compromise their privacy. UX experts recently said Robinhood uses dark patterns to get users to make trades. Spokespeople for Facebook, Google, and Robinhood did not immediately respond to Insider's request to comment on the past study's findings or the new protections in California.
"This is manipulating users into making decisions they wouldn't otherwise make and buying stuff they don't need," Gunes Acar, a former postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University's Center for Information Technology Policy, previously told Insider. "Showing a timer and saying you only have 5 minutes left - there's a sense of urgency that's questionable at best."Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are calling for greater regulation over dark patterns. In 2019, Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat, and Deb Fischer, a Republican, introduced a bill banning tech firms from using dark patterns. Federal Trade Commission commissioner Rohit Chopra, who served under Trump and now Biden, has spoken out against dark patterns.
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