Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission announced that it will be holding a virtual workshop to examine digital "dark patterns," which the FTC described as, "a range of potentially manipulative user interface designs used on websites and mobile apps." The workshop, "Bringing Dark Patterns to Light: An FTC Workshop," will be held on April 29, 2021.

The workshop will "explore the ways in which user interfaces can have the effect, intentionally or unintentionally, of obscuring, subverting, or impairing consumer autonomy, decision-making, or choice." Some of the key issues to be covered at the workshop will include:

  • The definition of dark patterns;
  • The prevalence of dark patterns in the marketplace;
  • The use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to design and deliver dark patterns;
  • The effectiveness of dark patterns at influencing consumer choice, decision-making, or behavior;
  • The harms dark patterns pose to consumers or competition; and
  • Ways to prevent, mitigate, and remediate the harmful effects of dark patterns.

The workshop will include panels on topics such as, "What Are Dark Patterns, and Why Are They Employed," "How Do Dark Patterns Affect Consumers," and "How Do Dark Patterns Specifically Affect Communities of Color." Acting FTC Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, Senator Mark R. Warner, and Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester are also scheduled to speak.

In advance of the workshop, the FTC is seeking public comment on the following topics:

  • Defining dark patterns;
  • Prevalence of dark patterns;
  • Factors affecting dark pattern adoption;
  • Dark patterns and machine learning;
  • Effectiveness of dark patterns;
  • Harms of dark patterns;
  • Consumer perception of dark patterns;
  • Market constraints and self-regulation; and
  • Solutions.

Additional information about the types of information that the FTC is soliciting, and about how to submit comments, is available here. Comments are due by May 29, 2021.

"Consumers who have found unwanted items in their online shopping carts or who have had to navigate a maze of confusing screens and questions to avoid unauthorized charges for products or services have experienced the injurious impact of dark patterns" -- Lesley Fair, FTC Business Blog