Taking control of our online lives in 2022 – World Wide Web Foundation

This article was written by Kaushalya Gupta, Policy Program Manager and Tech Policy Design Lab project leader tackling misleading design.


Deceptive designs, or “dark patterns”, are tricks built into the interfaces of apps and websites designed to lead us into actions we might not have taken otherwise. Like when companies make it easy to sign up for a service but it’s nearly impossible to cancel. Or when you have to go through endless steps to tell a service not to collect and sell your personal data.

These deceptive practices have implications for privacy, consumer protection and competition, and have proliferated on the web for years with little insight. That could be about to change.


Join us at Mozfest to learn more about the dangers of misleading design and join the discussion on what we can do about it | Register now


The response to deceptive design

Policy makers are starting to act. France’s data watchdog started 2022 by handing out nine-figure fines to big tech companies for their use of misleading designs to encourage people to accept tracking cookies. Then, weeks later, updates to the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) included a ban on “dark models” designed to trick or manipulate users. If this ban finds its way into final legislation, it would be a significant step forward for consumer rights and freedom of choice.

Beyond the EU, governments from Norway to Australia to the United States are preparing to adopt deceptive design practices. For example, the US Federal Trade Commission recently issued new guidelines and a warning to subscription services against using “dark patterns”. Meanwhile, an update to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is set to ban the use of deceptive designs that prevent users from opting out of the sale of their personal data.

Momentum is building and measures like this can encourage other countries to step up similar measures. We must push for rules and regulations that address the most pressing areas of harm, to secure our data, save our money, and uphold our freedom of choice.

Toward a Future of Trustworthy Design

If passed in its current form, the EU’s Digital Services Act would impose fines of up to 6% of global turnover on companies that break the rules. While this would be a serious incentive for companies to develop systems that satisfy regulators, we have seen time and time again that companies are willing to flout the rules and treat fines as the cost of doing business if the gains to be made are large enough. students.

And so, as lawmakers work to crack down on bad practice, we also need to develop guidelines and benchmarks for what good looks like as part of a broader shift towards an environment where platforms design their services in a way that puts users in control and where trust becomes a norm. We need to create a culture where trust and long-term relationships are highly valued and where companies that rely on disappointing design practices are forced to pay, as empowered customers leave and investors refocus on competitors that meet their ESG and ethical technology expectations.

Developing the principles, best practices and regulatory guidance that can shape this environment requires input from a wide range of specialists, from designers and product managers to academics and advocates, and experts already at the forefront of regulations.


Answer our survey in 2 questions to share your experience and help shape the direction of our Tech Policy Design Lab | Complete survey (Complete la encuesta en español)


A laboratory to create reliable design models

That’s why the Tech Policy Design Lab brings together business, government, and civil society from around the world to better understand the challenges of misleading design and co-create policy solutions to help promote trusted design patterns. Based on engagements so far with over 50 stakeholders in nearly 20 countries, we’ve heard that to help move from misleading design to reliable models, there’s a need to co-create a portfolio of prototypes that show best-in-class design. practices across a range of platforms and experiences. This will complement policy outcomes and recommendations for policy makers to adopt.

The lab seeks to ensure that voices from the Global South are included in this dialogue, especially since most of the research and work done on misleading design so far has focused on the Global North – so if you know of people or organizations working on this issue in the Global South, please let us know. More research taking into account different cultures, abilities and socio-economic status is needed to sufficiently address misleading design in various contexts. Low-income people and those with low levels of literacy and digital literacy may be particularly vulnerable, as may those from non-dominant cultures.

Here is our schedule for the lab:

  1. Gather the evidence harms associated with misleading design through consultations [ November 2021 – March 2022]
  2. Policy Design Workshops / Prototyping Sessions bring stakeholders together to identify best practices and co-create a portfolio of alternatives for ethical, empathetic and trustworthy design [April 2022 – June 2022]
  3. Generate solutions: transforming evidence into concrete results such as public policy frameworks, standards, guidelines and legislative principles that governments must adapt and adopt [July 2022 – August 2022]
  4. Advocacy and awareness to those with the power to effect change (governments and businesses) to test, refine and implement solutions [September 2022 – December 2022]

We will be working with design firms 3×3 and Simply Secure to design and facilitate this Tech Policy Design Lab initiative.

To be involved

It is imperative that a holistic, people-centred and truly inclusive multi-stakeholder approach be adopted in order to develop solutions that put people and their needs first.

We want to hear from you

Join us at Mozfest to learn more about the dangers of misleading design and join the discussion on what we can do about it | Register now

Answer our survey in 2 questions to share your personal experiences with misleading design and help shape the direction of our Tech Policy Design Lab | Complete survey (Complete la encuesta en español)

If you are interested in participating in this Technical Policy Design Lab or would like to learn more, please contact techlab@webfoundation.org.


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Abdul J. Gaspar