Defeating Deceptive Design: Takeaways from our MozFest session

30th March 2022 | Update

This post was written by Kara Dunford, Web Foundation Communications Manager. Follow her on Twitter @kara_dunford.

This year at MozFest, in collaboration with Simply Secure, we hosted a 1-hour interactive session on deceptive design, the current topic for our Tech Policy Design Lab. Deceptive designs go to the heart of people’s ability to live their lives online with dignity, autonomy, and a sense of trust in products and services.

The session was open to all MozFest attendees, and interested and engaged community members joined us to share their points of view. We invited those gathered from around the world and across stakeholder groups to share their lived experience, discuss opportunities and barriers to change, and brainstorm interventions for addressing deceptive design globally using our human-centered approach. Here are the takeaways.

1. There is no single deceptive design experience — it’s personal.

The term “deceptive design” can mean different things to different people. Just as our online experiences are unique, so too are our understandings of what makes a design choice problematic. Our Lab is working to uncover examples of design practices that lead users toward actions they might not otherwise take to paint a more complete picture of the harms they cause and develop alternative approaches.

2. Deceptive design is a human rights issue.

Deceptive design is not just an annoying UX feature — it could be a human rights issue. Sometimes, it can severely limit our freedom to make informed choices, taking away our autonomy as people pour significant time and resources into the science and psychology of manipulative design. In this way, deceptive design causes real harms and must be treated as a serious violation of our rights and freedoms.

3. We must prioritise securing our data and saving our money.

Deceptive design can cause harm in a number of areas: privacy, consumer protection, and competition, to name three thematic areas our research has identified. For participants of our session, tackling deceptive design to better secure our data and save our money was highlighted as a key priority. This will mean targeting patterns that:

contribute to people giving up more of their personal data than they intend;
influence people to spend more time online so they can be tracked and get more data collected; and
trick people into giving up more of their money in some way (e.g. subscription models, hidden costs, pricing manipulation, and more).
4. We can only protect ourselves if we are better informed.

Digital literacy is critical to defeating deceptive design. If we don’t understand these design practices and the ways they are harming us, we can’t properly address their impact. So many of these practices exploit this knowledge gap, and so it is incumbent on us to boost understanding of them and ways to protect ourselves. And for groups with lower rates of digital literacy in general, such as children and the elderly, this vulnerability becomes even more stark.

5. A lack of examples of good practices is a blocker to change.

For many, deceptive design has become “the way things are done”, with websites and apps playing follow the leader on implementing these practices. To break this pattern, we need to develop guidelines and benchmarks for what good looks like so that platforms can design their services in a way that puts users in control and trust is a norm. Our Lab will support this effort by identifying best practices and alternatives for ethical, empathetic, and trusted design, and turning this evidence into concrete solutions — with the goal of better aligning the needs of both businesses and users.

To date, we have been engaging with experts from across the globe to gather evidence of harms and explore where the impact of deceptive practices is felt the most. Feedback from the MozFest community is one of the many inputs the lab will use as we go forward with our research.

As we continue this work, we want to hear from you.

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 (Complete la encuesta en español)

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


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