U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, today re-introduced the Deceptive Experiences to Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act to prohibit large online platforms from using deceptive user interfaces, known as “dark patterns,” to trick consumers into handing over their personal data. The DETOUR Act would also prohibit these platforms from using features that result in compulsive usage by children.
“We live in an environment where large online operators often deploy manipulative practices or ‘dark patterns’ to obtain consent to collect user data,” said Thune. “This bipartisan legislation would create a path forward to strengthen consumer transparency by holding large online operators accountable when they subject their users to behavioral or psychological research for the purpose of promoting engagement on their platforms.”
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 Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act aims to curb manipulative behavior by prohibiting the largest online platforms (those with over 100 million monthly active users) from relying on user interfaces that intentionally impair user autonomy, decision-making, or choice. The legislation:
- Prohibits large online operators from designing, modifying, or manipulating user interface with the purpose or substantial effect of obscuring, subverting, or impairing user autonomy, decision-making, or choice to obtain consent or user data
- Prohibits subdividing or segmenting consumers for the purposes of behavioral experiments without a consumer’s informed consent, which cannot be buried in a general contract or service agreement. This includes routine disclosures for large online operators, not less than once every 90 days, on any behavioral or psychological experiments to users and the public. Additionally, the bill would require large online operators to create an internal Independent Review Board to provide oversight on these practices to safeguard consumer welfare.
- Prohibits user design intended to create compulsive usage among children under the age of 13 years old (as currently defined by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act).
- Directs the FTC to create rules within one year of enactment to carry out the requirements related to informed consent, Independent Review Boards, and Professional Standards Bodies.