Defeating Deceptive Design: Getting Control of Our Online Lives in 2022

25th February 2022 | Update

This post was written by Kaushalya Gupta, Policy Program Manager and lead on the Tech Policy Design Lab project tackling deceptive design.

Deceptive designs, or “dark patterns”, are tricks built into the interfaces of apps and websites designed to lead us towards actions we might not otherwise take. Like when companies make it easy to subscribe to a service but near-impossible to cancel. Or when you have to jump through endless hoops to tell a service not to scoop up and sell your personal data.

These deceptive practices have implications for privacy, consumer protection, and competition, and have proliferated on the web for years with little pushback. That could be about to change.

Join us at Mozfest to find out more about the dangers of deceptive design and join in the discussion of what we can do to tackle them | Register Now

The fightback on deceptive design

Policymakers are starting to take action. France’s data watchdog started 2022 by issuing nine-figure fines to big tech companies over their use of deceptive designs to encourage people to accept tracking cookies. Then, weeks later, updates to the EU’s Digital Services Act (DSA) included a ban on “dark patterns” designed to deceive or manipulate users. If this ban makes it into the final legislation, this would be a significant step forward for consumer rights and freedom of choice.

Beyond the EU, governments from Norway to Australia to the US are preparing to take on deceptive design practices. For instance, the US Federal Trade Commission recently issued new guidance and a warning to subscription services against employing “dark patterns”. Meanwhile, an update to the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) is set to ban the use of deceptive designs that prevent users from opting out of the sale of their personal data.

Momentum is building and moves like this can encourage other countries to step up with similar measures. We must push for rules and regulations that address the most pressing areas of harm, in order to secure our data, save our money, and defend our freedom of choice.

Moving towards a future of trustworthy design

If passed in its current form, the EU’s Digital Services Act would impose fines up to 6% of global turnover on companies who violate the rules. While this would set a serious incentive for companies to develop systems that satisfy regulators, we’ve seen time and again that companies are willing to flout rules and treat fines as the cost of doing business if the gains to be made are sufficiently high.

And so, as lawmakers move to clamp down on bad practices, we also need to build guidelines and benchmarks for what good looks like as part of a wider shift towards an environment where platforms design their services in a way that puts users in control and where trust becomes a norm. We need to create a culture where trust and long-term relationships are highly valued and where companies that lean on deceptive design practices are made to pay, as empowered customers leave and investors refocus on competitors that meet their expectations around ESG and ethical technology.

Building the principles, best practices, and regulatory guidance that can shape this environment demands input from a wide spectrum of specialists, from designers and product managers to academics and advocates, and experts already leading the way on regulation.

Complete our 2-question survey to share your experience and help shape the direction of our Tech Policy Design Lab | Complete Survey

A lab to build trusted design patterns

This is why the Tech Policy Design Lab is bringing together companies, governments and civil society from across the world to better understand the challenges of deceptive design and co-create policy solutions to help promote trusted design patterns. Based on engagements so far with over 50 stakeholders in nearly 20 countries, we’ve heard that to help drive the shift from deceptive design to trusted patterns, there’s a need to co-create a portfolio of prototypes that show best-in-class design practices across a range of platforms and experiences. This will complement policy outputs and recommendations for policymakers to adopt.

The lab seeks to ensure Global South voices are included in this dialogue, particularly as most of the research and work done on deceptive design so far has been focused in the Global North — so if you know people or organisations working on this issue in the Global South, please let us know. More research that takes into account different cultures, abilities, and socio-economic status is necessary to sufficiently tackle deceptive design in a range of contexts. People on lower incomes and those with low literacy and digital literacy can be especially vulnerable, as can those from non-dominant cultures.

Here’s our timeline for the lab:

  • Gather evidence of the harms associated with deceptive design through consultations [ November 2021 – March 2022]
  • Policy Design Workshops / Prototyping Sessions convening stakeholders to identify best practices and co-create a portfolio of alternatives for ethical, empathetic, and trusted design [April 2022 – June 2022]
  • Generate solutions: Turn evidence into concrete outputs such as public policy frameworks, standards, guidelines, and legislative principles for governments to adapt and adopt [July 2022 – August 2022]
  • Advocacy and outreach to those who have the power to make change (governments and companies) to test, refine and implement solutions [September 2022 – December 2022]

We’ll be working with design firms 3×3 and Simply Secure to design and facilitate this Tech Policy Design Lab initiative.

Get Involved

It is imperative that a truly inclusive global, human-centered, and multi-stakeholder approach is adopted in order to develop solutions that put people and their needs first.

We want to hear from you

Join us at Mozfest to find out more about the dangers of deceptive design and join in the discussion of what we can do to tackle them | Register Now

Complete our 2-question survey to share your personal experiences with deceptive design and help shape the direction of our Tech Policy Design Lab | Complete Survey

If you’re interested in taking part in this Tech Policy Design Lab, or would like to find out more, please contact

This work is part of the Contract for the Web — the roadmap of action to create an online world that is safe, empowering and for everyone. Find out more and endorse the Contract at


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