Sen. Mark Warner and a bipartisan group of senators have reintroduced a bill aimed at curbing “dark patterns” used by online platforms to deceive consumers into disclosing personal data. The bill, known as the DETOUR Act, seeks to prevent platforms from manipulating users into agreeing to invasive practices that violate their privacy while maximizing profits for the companies.
Dark patterns are manipulative online designs that trick users into unintended actions, leading to a worse user experience and compromised data security. The legislation prohibits platforms with more than 100 million active users from using interfaces that impair user autonomy or decision-making and mandates the creation of independent review boards to oversee privacy protection efforts and eliminate the use of dark patterns.
Platforms have been intentionally hiding privacy settings that are beneficial to consumers, making it difficult for users to find options that protect their privacy. As a result, users unknowingly give up sensitive information, such as messages and location data, causing harm to individual users while benefiting the platforms financially.
The bill further restricts platforms from dividing users into disparate groups for behavioral experiments without their consent and requires consent options to be easily accessible without complex navigation. Notably, the legislation also prohibits platforms from designing tools that encourage compulsive usage among children and teens under 17.
Support for the bill is gaining momentum as it aims to hold tech companies accountable for reducing harm to kids and teens caused by the way platforms are designed and operated.
Additionally, Sen. Warner co-sponsored the Kids Online Safety Act, which has advanced in the Senate and requires platforms to uphold a duty of care, preventing the dissemination of harmful content to teenagers 16 and younger. The Kids Online Safety Act has faced criticism from civil liberties groups concerned about its potential impact on freedom of expression, speech, and privacy. Nevertheless, the reintroduction of the DETOUR Act reflects a continued effort to regulate big tech and protect online consumers from deceptive practices.