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Google, Facebook Have Been Using “Dark Patterns”: Report

The privacy intrusive defaults in Facebook and Google make users who want the privacy-friendly option to go through a significantly longer process

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Google discusses data privacy before Senate hearing. Pixabay
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Tech giants Google, Facebook and Microsoft have been using “dark patterns” around privacy settings to discourage users in the European Union from exercising their privacy rights, according to a new report by the Norwegian Consumer Council.

The popups from Facebook, Google and Windows 10 have design, symbols and wording that nudge users away from the privacy friendly choices, said the study.

The consumer watchdog studied the privacy settings of the firms and found a series of “dark patterns”, including intrusive default settings and misleading wording, the BBC reported on Thursday.

“The use of exploitative design choices, or ‘dark patterns’, is arguably an unethical attempt to push consumers toward choices that benefit the service provider,” the Norwegian Consumer Council said in its report.

It picked Facebook, Google, and Microsoft for the study as they are some of the world’s largest digital service-providers.

In this study, the Norwegian group looked at user settings updates in the three digital services that relate to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which came into force in May.

European service providers gave users a wide array of GDPR updates. Among these services, users of Facebook, Google’s services, and Windows 10 had to click through and approve update messages as part of the companies’ attempt to comply with the new legislation.

These popups contained references to new user terms, and presented a number of user settings related to the ways that the companies may collect, process, and use personal data.

This is not a problem in itself, but analysis of a sample of settings in Facebook, Google and Windows 10 by the group showed how default settings and “dark patterns” were used to nudge users towards privacy intrusive options.

Facebook mobile app
Facebook mobile app. Pixabay

The privacy intrusive defaults in Facebook and Google make users who want the privacy-friendly option to go through a significantly longer process, the report said.

They also obscure some of these settings so that the user cannot know that the more privacy intrusive option was pre-selected.

“At the same time, we find that the service providers employ numerous tactics in order to nudge or push consumers toward sharing as much data as possible,” the report, titled “Deceived by Design” said.

Besides privacy intrusive default settings and hiding away privacy-friendly choices, the service providers were found to be using “misleading wording”, giving users “an illusion of control”, and having a “take-it-or-leave-it” approach.

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The three companies said user privacy was important to them, the BBC report said. (IANS)

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Australia Proposes To Strengthen Regulations of Facebook, Google

Facebook has 17 million monthly users in Australia -- 68 per cent of its population -- while Instagram, second most popular site in terms of users - which is owned by Facebook, has 11 million users

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Australia recommends strengthening regulation of Facebook, Google. Pixabay

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on Monday proposed measures to counter the dominant market positions of Google and Facebook and strengthen monitoring on their access to information, advertising and consumers personal data.

The regulatory body, which recommended 11 preliminary measures in the report, was directed to conduct a public inquiry into the impact of digital search engines, social media platforms and other digital content in 2017 by then treasurer and current Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“Acting as an intermediary between consumers and news outlets, platforms are inherently influential in shaping consumers’ choices of digital journalism,” said the report cited by Efe news.

This influential position and filtration of news items could place the consumer in a so-called filter bubble, increasing the risk of consumers being exposed to unreliable news, according to the report.

“The algorithms operated by each of Google and Facebook, as well as other policies, determine which content is surfaced and displayed to consumers in news feed and search results,” it said.

“The ACCC considers that the strong market position of digital platforms like Google and Facebook justifies a greater level of regulatory oversight,” Chair Rod Sims said.

Facebook
Facebook, social media. Pixabay

The commission called for the creation of a regulatory authority with powers to monitor these digital platforms and recommended establishing an automatic mechanism to take down content that violates copyright.

The ACCC said consumers should be informed about the manner in which these platforms collect and use their data to create personalized advertising.

This would include a reform of privacy laws to require the user’s express consent to data collection and “enable consumers to require erasure of their personal information where they have withdrawn their consent”.

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ACCC said that it found that “competition may have been distorted in multiple sectors where consumer data is used”.

Facebook has 17 million monthly users in Australia — 68 per cent of its population — while Instagram, second most popular site in terms of users – which is owned by Facebook, has 11 million users.

In 2017, Google registered 90 per cent of search traffic originating from Australian desktops and 98 per cent from mobile phones. (IANS)