November 22, 2023 MDG

Navigating the Digital Maze: Dark Patterns, Algorithm Ethics, Facial Recognition and the FTC

This digital age of ours has consumers facing a deluge of potential harms ranging from privacy invasions to deceptive practices. Being online is like a dance of thousand cuts.

While Congress has been paralyzed crafting legislation to address these rapidly evolving harms the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has emerged as a key player in enforcing accountability.

As one of the rare mechanisms capable of responding swiftly to digital malpractices, the FTC’s enforcement actions against dark patterns, unethical use of algorithms, and privacy breaches have become crucial in safeguarding consumer rights. The absence of comprehensive congressional intervention is at this point criminal and has allowed for harms both at national and a personal level. I took the time to extract some key points from recent enforcement actions.

FTC’s Crackdown on Dark Patterns

Definition of Dark Patterns: Dark Patterns: Dark patterns are deceptive design tactics used in websites and apps that trick or manipulate users into making unintended decisions, often resulting in unwanted subscriptions, purchases, or loss of privacy. These patterns can take various forms, such as confusing navigation, hidden costs, misleading wording, or bait-and-switch techniques.

Dark Pattern Characteristics
– Misleading Navigation: Design elements that intentionally confuse or mislead users.
– Hidden Costs: Concealing extra charges or subscriptions.
– Bait-and-Switch: Promising one thing but delivering another.
– Privacy Intrusion: Coercing users to surrender more personal data than necessary.

List of FTC Enforcement Cases on Dark Patterns
– Vonage: A $100 million settlement for consumers misled by dark patterns into unwanted service commitments.
– Credit Karma: Action taken for using dark patterns to mislead consumers about credit card pre-approvals.
– WW International: Demanded deletion of algorithmic systems developed from unlawfully obtained data.
– Everalbum, Inc.: Required the deletion of a facial recognition algorithm developed through deceptive practices.

The Everalbum case prompted a deeper dive into the … FTC’s Guidelines on Ethical Use of Facial Recognition Technology (FRT) The FTC recommends companies using FRT prioritize consumer privacy, develop secure data practices, and ensure consumer awareness and consent. FTC insists on explicit consumer consent before using consumer images or biometric data in ways not initially represented, and before identifying anonymous images of a consumer.

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