Foundation series

Tech Hive Reviews – World Wide Web Foundation

Prior to our Tech Policy Design Lab workshops on the subject, the Web Foundation spoke to Tech Hive Advisory about their experience working on misleading design patterns in the African context.

  • Tell us about Tech Hive Advisory.

Tech Hive Advisory, “Hive”, is a technology policy, research and advisory firm that provides advisory and support services to private and public organizations regarding the intersection of technology, business and law. We focus on how emerging and disruptive technologies change and influence traditional systems while acting as an innovation partner.

Our experience and capabilities extend to research and policy advice, privacy and data protection, data ethics, cybersecurity, start-up advice and digital health.

  • Can you describe the nature of your work around misleading design?

Over the past three years, our research team has published articles on misleading design to advocate for human rights-centric designs and consumer rights protection. Two years ago we published a report on “The Art of Deception by Design” in collaboration with Amanda Manyame (a digital rights researcher), where we identified examples of use cases in Africa, and this year we went further to explore its use in the tech ecosystem with our new research. Additionally, we hosted a space Twitter session and webinar and participated in a podcast to amplify awareness.

More recently, we launched #DeceptiveDesign Tuesdays, a social media thread to raise awareness about the use of deceptive design as much as possible. We use infographics to illustrate different examples of misleading schemes, and in a short thread we explain how this impacts consumer choice. Finally, through our Tech Community (a community of volunteers interested in technology policy development), we are hosting a policy hackathon to co-create a policy guideline and policy brief on misleading design. Our goal is to promote safe, responsible and ethical design across the African continent. Finally, after producing these materials, we will engage consumer protection regulators in different African countries to sensitize them as their interest in digital services grows.

  • Why explore deceptive design now?

There has never been a better time with the continued proliferation of ICTs and digital technologies in the digital space. Given the harms associated with misleading designs and their varied expressions that are not yet fully understood, there is an increased demand and need to protect consumer rights and autonomy in the digital space. Thus, the call to action for regulators and stakeholders could be stronger. Moreover, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between marketing and consumer manipulation.

  • In the African countries you have researched, how do misleading design patterns typically manifest?

In digital services across Africa, misleading designs are common. Its applications range from producing a false scarcity bias for products, to using false urgency by imposing time limits to force decision-making, giving false perceptions that products are on sale or simply inserting items into a person’s online shopping cart. Even more egregious is the use of deceptive designs in e-commerce, especially e-commerce, such as confirmation shame, FOMO (fear of missing out), false testimonials, bait and switch, misdirection or social proof to negatively affect consumer decision-making. .

Deceptive electronic transaction designs attempt to persuade users to pay for a product or service by misrepresenting terms of service or making them fraudulently difficult to understand or read, adding hidden costs to users’ burden, or forcing users to give more personal information than they would prefer without even realizing it or asking their consent for the processing of this data. They frequently use social media platforms to track and target people for marketing and advertising purposes.

  • What are some of the legal/regulatory measures that have been proposed/put in place across the continent to ensure consumer/user protection against misleading design patterns?

Currently, no legal document comprehensively addresses misleading designs, nor is there any law that directly and intentionally speaks to its use. However, pockets of provisions in the consumer protection, electronic transactions and data protection laws of several countries deal with misleading design. The principles of data minimization, fairness and transparency are relevant under data protection law. Consumer protection laws: create the obligation to ensure that sufficient information is provided; that a consumer cannot pay a price higher than that displayed; prohibits misleading and deceptive marketing and prohibits misrepresentation through false reviews and false testimonials.

  • Finally, what are you most looking forward to from the Web Foundation’s Tech Policy Design Lab on deceptive design?

From our side, we are very eager to see the prospects for raising global awareness on the impact of misleading design on the user’s freedom of choice. We also believe that the World Wide Web Foundation’s Tech Policy Design Lab has the potential to play an important role in shaping the narrative for product managers, product designers, policy makers, regulators and all stakeholders and stakeholders to ensure rights-respecting designs for users around the world.

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