Senate Is Considering Online Privacy Regulations

The Senate Commerce Committee, on which Texas Senator Ted Cruz has a seat, is considering a bill known by its acronym, the DETOUR Act, which stands for The Deceptive Experiences to Online User Reduction Act. It would restrict “dark patterns.”

You might not be aware of the bill, but if you’ve been online you’ve probably encountered dark patterns, deceptive interfaces that get you to hand over all your data. It’s those boxes you click to get access to Facebook, or Google, or a myriad of other online companies. They plan on most people not reading the fine print, which allows them to capitalize your data that they collect. Sometimes your express approval comes in the form of a box that has been pre-checked for you, and if you don’t removed the check mark, you’re agreeing to their terms.

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia is one of the sponsors, and says, “We just want consumers to be able to make more informed choices about how and when to share their personal information.”

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Shawn Tuma, a data privacy and cyber security attorney with Spencer Fane, who suggests there will be more legislation to come. “We’ve been trying for many years now to get federal privacy legislation. It’s just hard to agree on exactly what’s covered, what’s not and how to handle it. The confusion out there with 50 states is pushing it to a point where Congress is going to have to act on this.”

A European study points the finger at Facebook and Google as two of the masters at getting people to do things that are not necessarily in their best interest or aware of what they are agreeing to, accusing them of highly deceptive practices.

“Google and Facebook provide a service that we all love and have a business model that is premised upon capturing the users personal information and using that to monetize the services they are providing,” says Tuma. Europe has begun restricting online access to user data in ways the U.S. is just now considering.

The DETOUR Act would make it illegal “to design, modify or manipulate a user interface with the purpose or substantial effect of obscuring, subverting or impairing user autonomy, decision-making or choice to obtain consent or user data.” They cite as an example Facebook’s use of a bright blue “accept” button and an understated grey option to refuse.

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