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FTC Releases Report Detailing Use of “Dark Patterns” to Manipulate Online Consumers

  • In a recent report entitled Bringing Dark Patterns to Light, the FTC detailed how companies increasingly have used sophisticated design techniques to allegedly trick or manipulate online consumers into purchasing products or services, or revealing personal information.
  • The report originated from a public workshop in 2021 on digital dark patterns that featured a variety of speakers, including consumer advocates, members of Congress, researchers, industry professionals, legal experts and others, and explored whether user interfaces could have the effect of “obscuring, subverting, or impairing consumer autonomy and decision-making.”
  • The alleged dark pattern tactics in the digital marketplace detailed in the report range from disguising ads to look like independent content but routed consumers to sales websites, making it difficult for consumers to cancel subscriptions, burying or delaying the disclosure key terms (including hidden fees), tricking customers into sharing their data, and even sneaking unwanted products into consumers’ online shopping carts without their knowledge. The report describes incidents where the FTC has sued companies for using dark pattern tactics to combat the use of dark patterns in the marketplace, and reiterated the agency’s commitment to taking action against those tactics.