US Senate to End Deceptive Practices and Dark Patterns on Online Platforms

A bipartisan Act proposed by US Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) would counter immoral data collection methods by large online platforms, forbidding “deceptive practices” and “dark patterns” that manipulate users into giving away personal data or giving up privacy altogether, writes CNBC.

The idea for the DETOUR (Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction) Act came following the countless data breaches and privacy issues, and the spread of fake or harmful content across social platforms. The large online platforms will have to be more transparent with all strategies involving customers. The bill has so far received support from tech companies like Microsoft, Mozilla and Common Sense.

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

Facebook, Twitter and Google have long manipulated users into releasing phone or email contacts without explaining what they were consenting to. Most concerning for US legislators, though, is that they’ve run manipulative schemes and “behavioral experiments” on children 13 years old and younger. For example, to use Facebook Messenger, Warner said on Twitter, users of all ages are asked to give the app access to their agenda. However, the companies will not be castigated for third-party ads displaying such practices.

You might not have heard of a “dark pattern,” but chances are you’ve seen these annoying, manipulative designs trying to trick you into clicking, buying, or signing up for something you don’t want. Today I introduced the DETOUR Act with @SenatorFischer to do something about them.

— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) April 9, 2019

“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,” said Mark Warner, who is also Vice Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “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 responsibility to implement the law would fall under a Federal Trade Commission body.

For almost a year, Warner has been working on regulating tech companies and online platforms, and even released a white paper that discusses this extensively. He has three more bills up his sleeve. These will focus on data transparency and how businesses make billions off customer data.

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