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Don’t Get in Trouble for Using Dark Patterns on Your Website


If you have an online business, it probably thrives on the ability to sign up customers, or get them to make purchases, and the ability to avoid customers from canceling your product or service. This is especially true if you utilize a subscription model for your business.

But be very careful—the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) is cracking down on so-called “dark patterns.” Dark patterns are ways that websites trick or deceive customers into signing up for a product or service, and ways that websites make it difficult or outright confusing to cancel a service or subscription.

The FTC recently generated a report, detailing the most common forms of dark patterns that it is cracking down on. They include:

Disguised ads – The FTC is getting tough on companies that disguise ads as editorial content, or which disguise the fact that they are ads. This includes sites that purport to compare products, but really are just a sales website that is anything but neutral. Other tricks that the FTC noted are companies that pretend that a sale is for a limited time only (some even utilize a ticking clock).

Difficulty canceling – This is especially prevalent with companies that offer free trials or trial periods, and then make it difficult to cancel the trial. Forcing customers to go through fine or small print, or forcing them to navigate into menus, submenus, and buried websites to cancel, or to click multiple denial buttons on multiple pages of a website, will lead to an FTC fine.

Buried terms – Those terms of service pages that have pages and pages of text better not be hiding hidden fees or costs—especially when a website advertises the opposite. Saying that there are “no additional fees” can be misleading and lead to government action, if there are in fact hidden fees listed in a pages-long term of service.

Closing pages (or ads) – If you use a pop up ad or notice on your site, there must be a clear way for the user to click off the ad. Burying or hiding the little “X” that closes the window, is likely an illegal dark pattern technique.

Suggestion and insults– Even disparaging customers can lead to government action. Giving a consumer the option of “sign up today!” or “No thanks, I’m a loser, I don’t want to sign up,” can be seen as illegal; suggesting that someone is bad, irresponsible, or careless for not signing up for your product or service, can also lead to government enforcement.

Obtaining personal data – Never hide the fact that you are collecting personal data. For example, having someone check that they want your product or service, without knowing that they are actually consenting to have their data shared and sold, would be a violation.

Make sure your website is legal and doesn’t get you in trouble. Call the West Palm Beach business litigation lawyers at Pike & Lustig today to review your website and marketing materials.




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