Consumer protectionWebsite screening: Dark patterns to manipulate consumer choice found in many online shops

Together with national consumer protection authorities of 23 Member States, Norway and Iceland (CPC Network), the European Commission (EC) published the results of its EU-wide website screening (known as 'sweep') to identify potential violations of EU consumer law today.

The current check screened 399 online shops of retail traders that offer products ranging from textiles to electronic goods. They focused on three specific types of manipulative practices, so-called ‘dark patterns', which are often used to push consumers into making choices that may not be in their best interest.

These are the key results:

  • The sweep uncovered that 148 of the screened websites (37 percent) contained at least one of the following three dark patterns to manipulate consumer decisions: 1. fake countdown timers, 2. web interfaces designed to lead consumers to purchases, subscriptions or other choices, and 3. hidden information.
  • For example, 42 websites used fake countdown timers with deadlines for consumers to purchase specific products.
  • 54 websites pushed consumers towards certain choices – from subscriptions to more expensive products or delivery options – either through their visual design or choice of language.
  • 70 websites were found to hide or make important information less visible for consumers. This includes information on details on delivery costs, the composition of products, or the availability of a cheaper option. 23 websites hid information with the aim of manipulating consumers into entering a subscription.
  • The sweep also included the apps of 102 of the websites screened, 27 of which also deployed at least one of the three categories of dark patterns.

Didier Reynders, Commissioner for Justice, noted: "Our screening shows that nearly 40 Percent of the online shopping websites rely on manipulative practices to exploit consumers' vulnerabilities or trick them. This behavior is clearly wrong and against consumer protection. Today we already have binding tools to help tackle such issues and I call on national authorities to make use of their enforcement capacities to take relevant action and fight these practices. Simultaneously, the Commission is reviewing all consumer legislation to ensure it is fit for the digital age. This also includes an assessment of whether dark patterns are adequately considered."

Source: EC

More information