A new tip line invites anyone to name and shame companies for dark pattern designs

You may not be familiar with the term “dark patterns” but the manipulative design phenomenon is ubiquitous in the apps and services we use every day.

Dark patterns nudge consumers to make choices that enrich companies, usually at their own expense. That can look like misleading wording that leads someone to sign their personal data away or a hidden button that results in a renewed subscription they’d probably rather cancel.

If you run across a sketchy dark pattern design, you can now report it on Darkpatternstipline.org, a dedicated site hosted by Consumer Reports. The new tip line is a joint project from the EFF, PEN America, Consumer Reports and Access Now, among other digital rights advocates.

Collecting dark pattern reports is an effort that could actually have teeth now, thanks to new laws taking aim at the manipulative design practice.

In March, California modified its landmark privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), to ban dark patterns in tech’s own backyard. “These protections ensure that consumers will not be confused or misled when seeking to exercise their data privacy rights,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said of the new regulations.

Even Congress is worried about dark patterns. In 2019, a bipartisan bill called the DETOUR Act sought to outlaw user interfaces “obscuring, subverting, or impairing user autonomy” for large companies with more than 100 million users. While that legislation didn’t go anywhere, coercive design choices are one of the many concerns that lawmakers have on their radar as they seek to implement new federal regulations for Big Tech companies.

For the tip line’s creators, flagging concerns for the regulators shaping tech policy is a priority. “If we want to stop dark patterns on the internet and beyond, we first have to assess what’s out there, and then use these examples to influence policymakers and lawmakers,” EFF Designer Shirin Mori said.

“We hope the Dark Patterns Tip Line will help us move toward more fair, equitable and accessible technology products and services for everyone.”