E-commerce dark patterns, illegal in Europe, still thrive in the US

Bloomberg ran a great story last week on the frustration felt by American consumers who find themselves trapped in e-commerce payment plans, such as membership clubs, they didn’t know they had joined. This isn’t because these shoppers are easily misled or stupid. It’s because dark patterns and deceptive UX have been deliberately deployed as the core components of the businesses’ e-commerce strategies. And once shoppers realise they’re in the rabbit hole, specially trained customer (dis)service officers make sure they can’t get out.

American readers might be interested to know that nearly all of the practices described in the article are illegal in Europe thanks to 2014’s consumer rights overhaul. The guidelines, which have been implemented within all EU member states, include specific provisions regarding membership sites and reoccurring billing. Retailers have also been required to beef up their information provision – what they say, when they say it, how they say it, and how often they say it – to ensure that the truth about the transaction is revealed before the purchase. The excuses given by the company described in the article simply would not be allowed here. (Who says the EU does nothing for us?)

Want to know more about Europe’s consumer rights regime and your obligations under it? You can buy my guide to Consumer Rights Directive compliance here. If you’re a designer or developer in Europe, whether you deal with reoccurring memberships or one-off transactions, it will help to keep you straight. If you’re a developer in America, it will give you a best practice standard to achieve.

About the author

Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.