U.S. senators’ new bill would ban online ‘dark patterns’ that trick consumers

FILE PHOTO – Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) listens to military families discuss their hazardous living conditions during a meeting at the Peninsula Workforce Development Office in Newport News, Virginia, U.S. March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ryan M. Kelly

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Senators Mark Warner, a Democrat, and Deb Fischer, a Republican, are introducing a bill on Tuesday to ban big online companies like Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc from using deception to push consumers to do things they otherwise would not do.

The bill would also ban online platforms with more than 100 million monthly active users from designing addicting games or other websites for children under age 13.

The bill takes aim at “dark patterns” developed using behavioral psychology, which mislead people into giving personal data to companies or otherwise trick them into doing something they would not do.

A website aimed at tracking dark patterns identifies behavior such as a website or app showing that a user has new notifications when they do not.

“Our goal is simple: to instill a little transparency in what remains a very opaque market and ensure that consumers are able to make more informed choices about how and when to share their personal information,” said Warner, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, in a statement.

The bill would bar companies from choosing groups of people for behavioral experiments, unless the companies get informed consent.

Under the terms of the bill, social media companies would create a professional standards body to create best practices to deal with the issue. The Federal Trade Commission, which investigates deceptive advertising, would work with the group.

Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Susan Thomas

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