Ahead of our Tech Policy Design Lab workshops on the topic, the Web Foundation spoke to Tech Hive Advisory about their experience working on deceptive design patterns within the African context.
- Tell us about Tech Hive Advisory.
Tech Hive Advisory, “Hive”, is a technology policy, research and advisory firm that provides advisory and support services to private and public organisations concerning the intersection of technology, business, and law. We focus on how emerging and disruptive technologies alter and influence traditional systems while acting as an innovation partner.
Our experience and capability extend across Research and Policy Advisory, Privacy and Data Protection, Data Ethics, Cybersecurity, Start-Up Advisory, and Digital Health.
- Can you describe the nature of your work around deceptive design?
Over the last three years, our research team has published papers on deceptive design to advocate for human rights centred designs and the protection of consumer rights. Two years ago, we put out a report on “the Art of Deception by Design” in collaboration with Amanda Manyame (a digital rights researcher), where we identified examples of use cases in Africa, and this year, we went further to explore its use in the tech ecosystem through our new research. In addition, we have hosted a Twitter space session and a webinar and participated in a podcast to amplify awareness.
More recently, we launched #DeceptiveDesign Tuesdays, a thread on social media to raise awareness about the usage of deceptive design as much as possible. We use infographics to illustrate different examples of deceptive patterns, and in a short thread, we explain how it impacts consumer choice. Lastly, through our tech community (a community of volunteers interested in technology policy development), we are organising a policy hackathon to co-create a policy guideline and policy brief on deceptive design. Our objective is to promote safe, responsible, and ethical design across the African continent. Finally, after producing these documents, we will engage consumer protection regulators in different African countries to raise awareness as their interests in digital services increase.
- Why explore deceptive design now?
There’s never been a better time with the continuous proliferation of ICT and digital technologies in the digital space. Given the harm associated with deceptive designs and its variegated expressions which are not fully understood yet, there is a higher demand and need to safeguard consumers’ rights and autonomy in the digital space. Thus, the call to action for regulators and stakeholders could be more important. In addition, it is increasingly difficult to draw a line between marketing and the manipulation of consumers.
- In the African countries you’ve researched on, how do deceptive design patterns usually manifest?
In digital services across Africa, deceptive designs are common. Its applications range from producing fake scarcity bias for products and using false urgency by imposing deadlines to force decision making, providing false perceptions that products are going on sale, or just sneaking items into a person’s online shopping basket. Even more egregious is the use of deceptive designs in e-business, particularly e-commerce, such as confirm shaming, F.O.M.O (fear of missing out), phoney testimonials, bait and switch, misdirection or social proof to negatively affect consumer decision-making.
Deceptive e-transaction designs attempt to persuade users to pay for a product or service by misrepresenting the terms and conditions of use or fraudulently making them difficult to understand or read, adding hidden costs to the users’ burden, or forcing users to give away more personal information than they would prefer without even realising it or seeking consent for the processing of such data. They frequently use social media platforms to track and target people for marketing and advertising.
- What are some of the legal/ regulatory measures that have been proposed/put in place across the continent to guarantee consumer/user protection from deceptive design patterns?
Currently, no legal document holistically addresses deceptive designs, nor is there a law that speaks directly and intentionally to its use. However, pockets of provisions of several countries’ consumer protection, electronic transaction and data protection laws address deceptive design. The principles of data minimisation, fairness and transparency are relevant under data protection law. Consumer protection laws: create the obligation to ensure that sufficient information is provided; that a consumer cannot pay the price higher than the one displayed; prohibits deceptive and misleading marketin;g and prohibits misrepresentation through false reviews and testimonials.
- Finally, what do you look most forward to with regards to the Web Foundation’s Tech Policy Design Lab on deceptive design?
On our end, we’re most eager about the prospects of elevating global awareness on the impact of deceptive design on user’s freedom of choice. We also believe that World Wide Web Foundation’s Tech Policy Design Lab has the potential to play a significant role in shaping the narrative for product managers, product designers, policy makers, regulators and all actors and stakeholders to ensure rights-respecting designs for users globally.
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