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Big Tech’s ‘dark patterns’ could be outlawed under new Senate bill

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It’s one of the first bills expected out of Warner’s office

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On Tuesday, Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced a bill that would prohibit large internet platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google from using deceptive design tricks as methods to trick users into handing over their personal data.

The DETOUR (Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction) Act, if approved, would ban platforms from designing, modifying, or manipulating a user interface in a way that impairs users from making educated decisions before consenting and giving companies access to their personal data. The bill would only affect platforms with over 100 million monthly active users.

“For years, social media platforms have been relying on all sorts of tricks and tools to convince users to hand over their personal data without really understanding what they are consenting to,” Warner said. “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.”

According to the draft text of the bill, The Federal Trade Commission would enforce these proposed rules along with an outside body similar to a self-regulatory organization that would be registered with the agency.

“Any privacy policy involving consent is weakened by the presence of dark patterns,” Fischer said in a statement. “These manipulative user interfaces intentionally limit understanding and undermine consumer choice.”

The bill has the potential to dramatically affect how platforms A/B test, essentially outlawing the practice unless it’s routinely disclosed to users. The text of the bill would make it illegal “to subdivide or segment consumers of online services into groups for the purposes of behavioral or psychological experiments or studies, except with the informed consent of each user involved.”

Last year soon after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress, Warner circulated a memo with a handful of different ideas lawmakers could use to regulate major tech platforms. The DETOUR Act is one of several expected to come out of Warner’s memo.