FTC Seeks to Modernize its Guidelines on Preventing Digital Deception

Federal Trade Commission staff are seeking public input on ways to modernize the agency’s trade guidelines, “.com Disclosures: How to Make Effective Disclosures in Digital Advertising.” First published in March 2013, this resource provides business advice on digital advertising and marketing.

As digital deception grows in sophistication, some companies are misquoting the guide to justify practices that mislead consumers online. For example, companies claimed they could avoid liability under the FTC by hiding disclosures behind hyperlinks, a practice that can expose consumers to financial fraud, intrusive surveillance and other harms. .

“We know that some companies misquote our current guides to justify dark patterns and other forms of digital deception,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Bureau. “We are looking to update the guides to make it clear that online tricks and traps will not be tolerated, and we look forward to hearing from the public about this initiative.”

FTC staff are seeking public comment to ensure the guides help honest companies treat consumers fairly, rather than being used as a shield by companies seeking to deceive. In soliciting public comment on possible revisions, staff address technical and legal issues that consumers, FTC law enforcement partners, and others believe need to be addressed. Issues on which FTC staff are seeking comment include:

  • the use of sponsored and promoted advertisements on social networks;
  • in-game and virtual reality ads and micro-targeted ads;
  • the ubiquitous use of dark patterns, manipulative user interface designs used on websites and mobile appsand in digital advertising that pose unique risks to consumers;
  • if the current the guidance adequately addresses advertising on mobile devices;
  • whether additional guidance is needed to reflect multi-party sales agreements involved in e-commerce and affiliate marketing agreements;
  • how guidance on the use of hyperlinks can be strengthened to better protect consumers; and
  • the appropriateness of online disclosures when consumers need to browse multiple web pages;

The FTC will be inviting public comment starting today and through August 2, 2022. Information on how to submit comments is available here.

This is one of many initiatives the FTC is undertaking to combat dark patterns and digital deception, including issuing a one-click cancellation policy statement, propose stronger advertising guidelines against false and manipulated reviews, arm staff with new tools to study dark patternsand allowing a Notice of criminal offense against misleading reviews.

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