Senate duo introduces bipartisan bill to ban social media 'dark patterns'

Sens. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSocial media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate Confirmation hearing for Biden's DNI pick postponed MORE (D-Va.) and Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerPush for ,000 stimulus checks hits Senate buzzsaw Overnight Energy: Biden makes historic pick with Haaland for Interior | Biden set to tap North Carolina official to lead EPA | Gina McCarthy forges new path as White House climate lead Energy Dept., nuclear agency breached as part of massive cyberattack MORE (R-Neb.) introduced a bill Tuesday to prevent social media platforms from tricking users into handing over their personal data.

The Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act prohibits large online platforms from using “dark patterns,” deceptive interfaces on websites and apps that, if clicked, lead a user to often unknowingly agree to certain settings that help the company, including relinquishing some control over private information.


“For years, social media platforms have been relying on all sorts of tricks and tools to convince users to hand over their personal data without really understanding what they are consenting to,” Warner, a former technology executive, said in a statement. “Our goal is simple: to instill a little transparency in what remains a very opaque market and ensure that consumers are able to make more informed choices about how and when to share their personal information.”

“These manipulative user interfaces intentionally limit understanding and undermine consumer choice," added Fisher, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee. "Misleading prompts to just click the ‘OK’ button can often transfer your contacts, messages, browsing activity, photos, or location information without you even realizing it. Our bipartisan legislation seeks to curb the use of these dishonest interfaces and increase trust online."

The legislation defines the “largest” online platforms as those that have over 100 million monthly active users. Among other things, the bill enables the creation of a standards body that can register with the Federal Trade Commission to promote best practices for user design. The groups would also be mandated to create internal oversight boards to monitor practices meant to safeguard consumer welfare.

The bill would also prevent platforms from implementing designs intended to cause compulsive usage among children aged 13 and under. Warner said during an interview with CNBC Tuesday that the legislation could be included in a federal privacy bill.

The senators promoted the support for their bill from several watchdog groups and tech companies, including Microsoft and Mozilla. 

“We support Senators Warner and Fischer in protecting people from exploitive and deceptive practices online,” said Fred Humphries, corporate vice president of U.S. government affairs at Microsoft. “Their legislation helps to achieve that goal and we look forward to working with them.”

Several of the largest tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Twitter, rely on advertising for revenue and use data collected from users to target their ads.