Lawmakers Announce Additional Support for Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Ban Manipulative 'Dark Patterns'
Jun 15 2022
WASHINGTON – With the privacy debate receiving renewed attention in Congress, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and John Thune (R-SD) and Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE-AL) and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH-16) today announced that their bipartisan, bicameral DETOUR Act – legislation that would prevent large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces, known as “dark patterns,” to trick consumers into handing over their personal data – has picked up several new endorsements.
“We are pleased to see growing momentum behind our bipartisan effort to ban these manipulative practices,” said the members of Congress today. “There’s an increasing consensus in Congress that Americans should be able to make informed choices about handing over their data to large platform companies.”
The term “dark patterns” is used to describe online interfaces in websites and apps designed to intentionally manipulate users into taking actions they would otherwise not. These design tactics, drawn from extensive behavioral psychology research, are frequently used by social media platforms to mislead consumers into agreeing to settings and practices advantageous to the company.
The DETOUR Act would also prohibit large platforms from deploying features that encourage compulsive usage by children and from conducting behavioral experiments without a consumer’s consent.
"The American Psychological Association supports the efforts of Senators Mark Warner, Deb Fischer, Amy Klobuchar and John Thune to reduce harmful practices and deceptive tactics by social media companies. These practices can be especially harmful to children, but adults are also susceptible,” said Mitch Prinstein, PhD, Chief Science Officer at the American Psychological Association. “Through my research and that of my colleagues in psychological science, we increasingly understand how these companies can mislead individuals. This is why we support the DETOUR Act and its aim to protect social media users.”
“Social media companies often trick users into giving up their personal data – everything from their thoughts and fears to their likes and dislikes – which they then sell to advertisers. These practices are designed to exploit people; not to serve them better. Senator Warner and Senator Fischer’s DETOUR Act would put a stop to the destructive and deceptive use of dark patterns,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.
“The DETOUR Act is an important step towards curbing Big Tech's unfair design choices that manipulate users into acting against their own interests. We are particularly excited by the provision that prohibits designs that cultivate compulsive use in children,” said Josh Golin, Executive Director of Fairplay. “Over the past year, we've heard a lot of talk from members of Congress about the need to protect children and teens from social media harms. It's time to put those words into action - pass the DETOUR Act!”
“The DETOUR Act proposed by Sen. Warner and co-sponsors represents a positive and important step to protect American consumers. DETOUR provides a mechanism for independent oversight over large technology companies and curtailing the ability of these companies to use deceptive and manipulative design practices, such as ‘dark patterns,’ which have been shown to produce substantial harms to users,” said Colin M. Gray, PhD, Associate Professor at Purdue University. “This legislation provides a foothold for regulators to better guard against deceptive and exploitative practices that have become rampant in many large technology companies, and which have had outsized impacts on children and underserved communities.”
“The proposed legislation represents an important step towards reducing big tech companies’ use of dark patterns that prioritize user engagement over well-being,” said Katie Davis, EdD, Associate Professor at the University of Washington. “As a developmental scientist, I’m hopeful the DETOUR Act will encourage companies to adopt a child-centered approach to design that places children’s well-being front and center, reducing the burden on parents to look out for and avoid dark patterns in their children’s technology experiences.”
The legislation was also previously supported by Mozilla, Common Sense, and the Center for Digital Democracy. Full text of the DETOUR Act is available here.