CCPC participates in EU-wide sweep of websites to identify dark patterns

January 30, 2023

  • Dark patterns are practices aimed at pushing consumers into making choices online that may not be in their best interest
  • Almost 400 online sweeps take place across the European Union

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has participated in a recent series of European Union (EU)-wide online sweeps to identify the use of dark patterns on websites.

‘Dark patterns’ is a term used to describe manipulative trading practices which push consumers to make choices they might not otherwise make.

399 sweeps were undertaken by the CPC Network, which is comprised of the various EU national authorities who are responsible for enforcing consumer protection laws in EU and EEA countries.

The sweeps included websites of mainly EU-based traders selling clothing; electronic goods and household equipment; cosmetics and personal care goods; and, food. The CCPC inspected the Irish websites of 16 well-known high street retailers.

Although a wide range of dark patterns exist the EU sweep focused on three specific areas of concern:

  • Fake countdown timers i.e. timers which are designed to create a sense of urgency by falsely presenting an offer as time limited
  • False hierarchy i.e. consumers are nudged to click on the trader’s preferred option by making it much more prominent, whether through visual design, colours or language
  • Hiding information i.e. information on a product or service is less visible by using very small fonts or placing information in a less prominent section of the website or application

Kevin O’Brien, Member of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, says:

“It’s vital that consumers can make informed decisions about the products they buy. Brands and traders should be aware that dark patterns, such as those identified during these EU-wide sweeps, are not acceptable and consumer protection legislation applies.

In an Irish context, from the select number of Irish traders reviewed, no clear infringements were identified but we will continue to monitor traders who sell online and ensure they adhere to the law.”

Find out more about the European sweeps.

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