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Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Consumer privacy gains congressional support

Approximately one year after Europeans passed the GDPR, members of the U.S. Congress are reviewing a bill designed to stop online platforms from misleading consumers on apps and websites.

The Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act, coauthored by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., is aimed at ending “dark patterns,” a term that covers a variety of practices designed to trick consumers into handing over their data. If passed, the legislation would enable the Federal Trade Commission to oversee and enforce compliance.

The ThreatMetrix Q1 2019 EMEA Cybercrime Report, published June 25, 2019, by ThreatMetrix and LexisNexis Risk Solutions, shows consumers around the world are gaining more control over their privacy and expect better treatment from the mobile apps and online platforms they patronize.

“As reports on data breaches and fake news stories fuel headlines across the world, consumers are now demanding a greater say in how their data will be used,” researchers wrote. “Trust and brand loyalty, in addition to large fines, are key risks for companies who violate the privacy of today’s consumer.”

The ThreatMetrix study noted that consumers may unknowingly become involved in scams that lead to them divulge personal credentials. Whether attacks are perpetuated by cybercriminals or social media platforms, they victimize consumers by tricking them into giving fraudsters or social sites “unfettered access to personal accounts and customer data.” Education and clear messaging are critical to improving consumer protections, according to the study.


The proposed DETOUR bill attempts to force large social media platforms to become more transparent in their consumer interactions by disclosing experiments with users and ending the practice of automatically opting in website visitors without their knowledge or consent.

The proposed bill states: “It shall be unlawful for any large online operator to

“a) design, modify or manipulate a user interface with the purpose or substantial effect of obscuring, subverting or impairing user autonomy, decision-making or choice to obtain consent or user data

“b) 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; or

“c) to design, modify, or manipulate a user interface on a website or online service, or portion thereof, that is directed to an individual under the age of 13, with the purpose or substantial effect of cultivating compulsive usage, including video auto-play functions initiated without the consent of a user.”

If passed, the bill will require large online operators, like Facebook, to regularly disclose any experiments or manipulative practices involving users and to cooperate with an independent review board tasked with overseeing their consumer-facing behaviors.

Dale Cardarelli, vice president, enterprise sales at Citizens Bank Merchant Services/Worldpay, is cautiously optimistic that regulators will continue to rein in dark pattern behavior by large technology companies and social media platforms.

“The convergence of shopping through social media is still early in adoption,” she said. “On one side, it's convenient to be targeted with products that appeal to me, yet despite that targeted approach, it's a constant reminder of Big Brother knowing my habits, behaviors and hearing my conversations. That is disconcerting. That fine line may sway me to stay away.” end of article

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