The Federal Trade Commission announced that it will hold a virtual workshop on April 29, 2021 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 FTC explained that the workshop, "Bringing Dark Patterns to Light:  An FTC 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.  The FTC explained that this could include situations where some websites sneak extra items into a consumer’s online shopping cart or require users to navigate a maze of screens and confusing questions to avoid being charged for unwanted products. 

Some of the topics that will be explored at the workshop will be: 

  • How dark patterns differ from sales tactics employed by brick-and-mortar stores;
  • How they affect consumer behavior, including potential harms;
  • Whether some groups of consumers are unfairly targeted or are especially vulnerable;
  • What laws, rules, and norms regulate the use of dark patterns; and
  • Whether additional rules, standards, or enforcement efforts are needed to protect consumers.

The FTC is currently developing the workshop and is looking for suggestions for topics and speakers.  If you're interested, you should e-mail the workshop organizers at no later than March 15, 2021.  The FTC said that it will also be posting a specific request for comments.