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IDAC Urges FTC Action on “Dark Patterns”

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As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) continues its efforts to address pervasive dark patterns on the web and in mobile apps, the International Digital Accountability Council (IDAC) submitted public comments to the federal regulators this week urging prompt and significant action to upend these online trap doors for data privacy.

The IDAC public comment, which can be read in its entirety here, highlights findings of our watchdog’s technical team through our investigations into apps ranging from COVID-19 tracking to education technology and presidential campaigns. 

In its public comment, IDAC wrote that dark patterns “have only one purpose: to serve as a digital trap door to deter consumers from making rational choices about their personal data at the point where it is most impactful to do so. Once personal data is unwittingly shared without consent or knowledge, there is no way back. Consumers cannot call back the data already shared if they later figure out how to opt out of data sharing.”

In addition to calling for swift Congressional action to enact comprehensive privacy legislation that specifically prohibits dark patterns and gives the FTC regulatory authority over the statute, IDAC recommended the FTC:

  • Use the full measure of its authority to put the digital ecosystem on notice that dark patterns will be closely scrutinized for violations of federal law;
  • Issue clear guidelines for companies designing user interfaces for privacy choices;
  • Encourage investigators, researchers and civil society groups to share findings with the Commission to develop the record for bringing actions and issuing guidance; and,
  •  Investigate and take action against companies that use dark practices to thwart consumers’ ability to opt-out of tracking and data collection.

To read more about the FTC review, including IDAC’s public comments, please click here.