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Amsterdam Law and Technology Expert Sheds Light on Dark Patterns for UK Regulators

AMSTERDAM, 26 October 2023

Dr Mark Leiser from the Amsterdam Law and Technology Institute recently presented a comprehensive analysis on “Dark Patterns Enforcement and the Emerging Digital Design Acquis -Manipulation beneath the Interface” at the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority. The invitation to present came from the CMA’s Behavioural Hub – a team of behavioural specialists – that has been leading a programme of work on online choice architecture and its impact on consumers and competition.

Dark patterns refer to manipulative design techniques in websites and apps, steering users into making unintended choices. While several academic and policy works have classified and defined dark patterns, enforcement rulings in terms of such deceptive design techniques, especially when led by regulatory bodies, remain less discussed.

Dr Leiser’s insightful presentation elaborated on two primary categories of dark patterns: user interface techniques and non-user interface techniques. He highlighted the more visible user interface techniques like preselected choices and bundled practices, and delved deeper into non-visible aspects such as informational practices and system architecture techniques.

While much of the EU’s regulatory action has targeted more evident dark patterns, Dr Leiser stressed that regulations like the GDPR effectively address issues found in third-party sharing agreements and privacy policies, but perhaps overlook the more concealed manipulations within System Architecture.

Feedback from the audience was positive. Dr Vedran Lesic commented, “We thank Dr Leiser for his presentation which has encouraged dialogue about the need for more robust regulatory interventions against deceptive online tactics.”

Expressing his gratitude for the platform, Dr Leiser said, “Engaging with regulators to share the latest findings on deceptive design is vital. I’m thankful for this opportunity to discuss dark patterns and their psychological implications. Such proactive dialogues are paramount for instigating change.”

As digital platforms and interfaces continue to evolve, discussions like these underscore the importance of continual vigilance and collaboration to protect users from potentially deceptive practices.

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