New UK Consumer Protection law against "dark patterns"

New UK Consumer Protection law against “dark patterns”

I stumbled on this interview on new online consumer protection in the UK with Heather Burns on 90 Percent of Everything yesterday.

The legislation in the UK being changed to protect online consumers against the usage of several so called “dark patterns” in UI design. Using “dark” design patterns basically means you are structuring the user interface in a way designed to trick people.

One of the most widely known ones is the “Sneak into basket” pattern. This means that items you don’t really want and are unrelated to your actual purchase are just added to the shopping cart. Travel insurance is often added when booking flights is one example. A catalogue that is added at a cost is another.

The full list of dark patterns can be accessed online, with new examples being added all the time.

Why am I writing about this?

Well, first and foremost, this and similar laws are going to be rolling out all across Europe, as this is just the UK following up on an EU directive.

More specifically, the “Consumer Rights Directive” that came into effect across Europe on 13 June 2014.

You can access the full text of the EU Consumer Rights Directive.

So if you run in the EU and doing something like that, you should be aware of the implications.


My take on the UK implementation

This is completely toothless.

Basically, if a consumer has been tricked by a “dark pattern”, all that will happen is that the contract is cancelled, and any delivered items can be kept at no charge.

Any fees or sales revenue has to be returned to the customer.

For this to happen, though, the individual consumer has to take action and contact his local council to get the matter resolved.

There is no additional fine or preemptive government – directed action against the companies in question.

Basically, if you sneak 1000 worthless junk items into shopping basket that net you 1000£ , the worst that can happen is that 5 people actually get their money back (-5£) because that is going to be the rate of people willing to go through the whole bureaucracy involved.

This holds true for “Forced Continuity” as well, where a contract is renewed again and again. All that happens is that the renewal is stopped.

In the end, the UK legislation does not change a lot for any company using these tricks – it certainly will not do real harm to them.

As I said – toothless.

Keep a  look out for what other EU countries are going to implement, though.

Not all legislations are going to be as benign to the companies and useless for the consumer.