Privacy laws and regulators are increasingly targeting companies’ use of so-called “dark patterns” on their websites, apps, and online services:  i.e., user interfaces that allegedly deceive, steer, or manipulate users into behavior that benefits the company but is contrary to the user’s intentions or best interests.

The phrase “dark patterns” seems to imply a deliberate intent to harm or deceive, and companies may assume that this term would never apply to their own practices if they are merely trying to simplify the user experience and guide the user in making the expected choices. However, what constitutes a “dark pattern” is less about companies’ intentions and more about how design choices—both large and small—may steer consumers’ decision-making. Companies should consider practical ways to design their user interfaces to avoid guiding or nudging users in a manner that may risk running afoul of new legal restrictions on dark patterns.