There’s a lot of science that goes into retail design. Grocery stores spread out staples so you have to pass the chips and impulse buys when you just wanted peanut butter and bread. Clothing stores play music from your youth to make you feel younger and more confident in the self you see in their mirrors. Malls use dimmer lighting near their doors to make you feel like you should stay inside just a little bit longer. And many online companies use website design to harvest as much of your information as they can, in a technique that lawmakers call “dark patterns.”
A few of the dark patterns that you’ve probably encountered before:
– Signing up for a service is easy, but canceling is difficult or obscured.
– Website design is misdirecting, featuring large, easy-to-spot buttons to guide you where they want and small or grayed-out buttons to reach features they’d prefer you not use.
– False pressure. Countdowns, tallies of how many other consumers might buy the thing you’re looking at, false clearance sales, anything that implies a product is limited when it isn’t.
– Shaming. Messages when you try to cancel or leave a website that imply your decision is harming the employees of the business, the environment, or the small business economy.
Sometimes, these dark patterns are for purposes as benign as getting you to purchase a product you might otherwise not, or not canceling a paid subscription on an impulse. Sometimes, they’re used by scammers. Either way, California’s new Consumer Privacy Act bans these sorts of tactics as of Monday, March 15.
“The CCPA is a really positive step forward for consumer privacy in California and we can hope that other states will follow suit,” said user experience expert Harry Brignull, who helped write the legislation. “It makes a range of privacy-related dark patterns illegal — including certain kinds of trick wording, hidden small print, misdirection and bait-and-switch.”