This blog post was written by Kaushalya Gupta, Policy Program Manager and Lead on the Tech Policy Design Lab on Tackling Deceptive Design and Moving Towards Trusted Design
The use of deceptive designs, also known as ‘dark patterns’, is harming consumer safety, privacy, and trust around the world. Default design practices like these are widespread in the Asia Pacific, preventing 60% of the world’s population from leveraging the internet to its full potential.
The Web Foundation’s panel and workshop at the Asia-Pacific Internet Governance Forum, held in Singapore in September 2022, brought together around 100 participants, offline and online, comprising researchers, policy experts, designers, entrepreneurs, and members of civil society. Together, we mapped out the gaps in designing for digital products and platforms and the particular challenges for the people in the region, identified major blocks in existing efforts, and discussed solution models that combine design, advocacy, and innovative policymaking to advance an alternative future with trusted design.
Sage Cheng, Access Now (left) and Kaushalya Gupta, Web Foundation (centre) at the Asia-Pacific Internet Governance Forum session moderated by Anju Mangal (right)
The following five takeaways represent key challenges and opportunities in tackling deceptive designs in Asia-Pacific:
- The term may be unfamiliar, but the experience is widely shared: While the terms ‘deceptive design’ and ‘dark patterns’ were relatively new to the audience at the Internet Governance Forum, almost every participant in the workshop had lived experiences of being tricked by deceptive designs. In addition, participants were appreciative of Web Foundation’s shift to the term ‘deceptive design’ from the original term ‘dark patterns’, which also served as an impetus for Harry Brignull who coined the term ‘dark patterns’ to adopt the new term.
- Deceptive design leads to disempowerment: Beni Chugh’s research explores common deceptive designs and their adverse effects on consumers in India through a financial inclusion lens. In short, users are being misled into signing up for financial products they may not need. Additionally, deceptive designs interfere with democratic processes and influence citizens’ political choices. As a result of these incursions into users’ autonomy, web users are largely disenfranchised and disempowered. Beni Chugh’s research paper concludes with open questions that India must contend with when regulating deceptive designs.
- Deceptive design comes with a cost: Chandni Gupta’s presentation looked closely into ten of the most common deceptive designs in Australia, based on the recent Duped by Design report published by the Consumer Policy Research Centre. These practices take a toll on the emotional wellbeing of users, their finances, and the control over their personal information, and can also come with a cost to businesses. While 83% of Australians surveyed in the study have experienced one or more negative consequences of deceptive designs, only 58% were aware that organisations use deceptive designs to influence them to behave in a certain way. A consumer-centric approach from businesses, regulators and government could help mitigate consumer harm.
- Collaboration is key to developing solutions: Kaushalya Gupta showcased the Web Foundation’s Technology Policy Design Lab work to spark collaborative efforts with stakeholders and to make effective policy decisions to combat deceptive designs and adopt trusted designs. The six opportunity areas for moving toward trusted design, have been developed with input from over 100 experts from over 30 countries. These include principles and guidelines mentioned above, public awareness campaigns, a crowdsourced reporting tool, an evaluation framework, a global accreditation system, and an internationally applicable regulatory framework.
During the co-creation workshops, public gatherings at conferences and events, consultations, and key informant interviews undertaken as part of the Web Foundation’s research, it emerged that designers do not want to make deceptive design, and most platforms do not want to perpetuate these practices but are somewhat constrained by growth models in a data-driven digital economy. Therefore, solutions must be discussed openly with stakeholders representing different sectors and regions in order to be agreed upon and implemented.
- A checklist of dos and don’ts can come in handy for designers and beyond: Sage Cheng gave an overview of the Dos and Don’ts Checklist that is currently under development for designers to consider in their UX/UI practices. Thigs list is an ongoing collaborative effort of a group of designers, researchers, technologists, and civil society members convened at gatherings such as RightsCon, Interaction 22, MozFest, and the Web Foundation’s Tech Policy Design Lab.
By taking a design-led approach, the Web Foundation’s Tech Policy Design Lab is currently developing a portfolio of UX/UI prototypes to demonstrate a set of ‘trusted design’ principles. These principles were co-created by stakeholders across the globe through a series of workshops held in collaboration with 3×3 and Simply Secure. According to these design principles, digital products and platforms should respect human rights, ensure equitability and accessibility, stay informative and transparent to people who are using them, prioritise at-risk communities, and keep the product experience burden-free.
Deceptive design has been a difficult problem to tackle, partially because the language we use to address deceptive design means different things to different stakeholders. Also, the interventions often come in silos, whether it is policy and regulations or ethical design initiatives in the Asia-Pacific region, a challenge trusted and responsible design advocates are grappling with globally. While there are several actors working in similar spaces and issues, they are often not seen to be working on the ‘deceptive design’ or ‘dark patterns’ issue per se. Participants were encouraged to continue collaborating on this issue at the Web Foundation’s Tech Policy Design Lab. We will submit the outcomes of the Lab to the UN Global Digital Compact to lay out shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future.
To learn more about the deceptive design issue in the Asia-Pacific region, we have put together a reading list below:
- Duped by design – Manipulative online design: Dark patterns in Australia by the Consumer Policy Research Centre
- The choice mirage: how Australian consumers are being duped online via dark patterns by Chandni Gupta
- Wait, what’s in my cart? The hidden cost of website ‘dark patterns’ by Chandni Gupta
- Unboxing Tech Toolkit by Titiksha Vashist and Shyam Krishnakumar
- Unpacking dark patterns: understanding dark patterns and their implications for consumer protection in the digital economy by Beni Chugh and Pranjal Jain
- Positive or zero-sum game: When privacy by design meets dark patterns by Karthik Venkatesh and Kamesh Shekar
- Looking at Dark Patterns in Light of the Competition Law in India by Renu Gupta and Akshat Bhushan
- Expected Strengthening of Regulation of Dark Patterns by Kim & Chang
- Many of New Zealand’s most popular websites use ‘dark patterns’ to manipulate users – is it time to regulate? By Cherie Lacey and Alex Beattie