If you were at PACE ACX last month and attended my session with Lois Greisman, Associate Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Division of Marketing Practices discussing the FTC’s enforcement priorities, then yesterday’s FTC press release regarding a dark patterns enforcement action came as no surprise. During our conversation, Lois emphasized that the FTC was looking at companies that used illegal dark pattern tactics to prevent consumers from canceling their services or to influence consumers to make choices online that are not in the consumer’s best interest.
The FTC’s dark patterns enforcement action against Vonage resulted in a proposed court order that requires Vonage to:
- Refund $100 million to consumers that were harmed by the company’s actions,
- Make its cancellation process simple and transparent, and
- Stop charging consumers without consent.
To put the fine in perspective, Vonage had revenue of approximately $1.4 billion over the past year. In September, the FTC released a report showing how “companies are increasingly using sophisticated design practices known as ‘dark patterns’ that can trick or manipulate consumers into buying products or services or giving up their privacy.” The FTC’s report highlights dark patterns that include:
- Disguising ads to look like independent content,
- Making it difficult for consumers to cancel subscriptions or charges,
- Burying key terms or junk fees, and
- Tricking consumers into sharing their data.
M&S will be posting a more detailed article on dark patterns and provide practical suggestions for staying out of trouble.
Michele is the Managing Partner at M&S and former Chief of the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section. Bringing more than two decades of experience in the consumer protection arena, she advises highly regulated businesses on a wide range of telemarketing, privacy, and other consumer protection matters.