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Europeans push to curb 'dark patterns' in social media

New guidelines are supposed to help national authorities spot and regulate design-based manipulations.

The European Union's privacy watchdog, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB), adopted a set of guidelines to limit 'dark pattern' infringements on social media.

'Dark patterns' is a technique designers use to coerce users into doing what the website wants. For example, providing privacy options for web cookies, with one option being brighter and worded more positively.

EDPB aims to offer practical recommendations to designers and users of social media on how to assess and avoid 'dark patterns' in various interfaces, especially when misleading design collides with EU's strict privacy regulation, GDPR.

According to the EDPB, 'dark patterns' may 'cause users to make unintended, unwilling, and potentially harmful decisions regarding the processing of their personal data.'

With design working against users' interests, it's unlikely an average person will make the choices that are best suited for them.

"The guidelines give concrete examples of dark pattern types, present best practices for different use cases, and contain specific recommendations for designers of user interfaces that facilitate the effective implementation of the GDPR," EDPB claims.

Several US states, most notably California and Washington, added provisions on the use of 'dark patterns' in their respective privacy bills.

The misuse of dark patterns wary anywhere from annoying to downright dangerous. In some cases, the 'pattern' might lead a user to miss the 'x' on a pop-up ad, while in other cases, users commit to contracts over services they thought were free.

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