A mouse pointer next to a maze.

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California bans sites from making it difficult to opt-out of having personal data sold

The new regulations target dark patterns surrounding opt-outs.


Andrew Wyrich


Posted on Mar 16, 2021   Updated on Mar 16, 2021, 10:13 am CDT

California announced on Monday that it was banning specific “dark patterns” on apps and websites under its sweeping consumer privacy bill.

“Dark patterns” are deceptive practices that are intended to trick, frustrate, or obfuscate users attempting to unsubscribe or opt-out of things online. One example of a “dark pattern” is a maze of pages you have to navigate through before finally reaching the option to delete an account.

Specifically, the new regulations will prohibit businesses from using methods that are “designed with the purpose or has the substantial effect of subverting or impairing a consumer’s choice to opt-out.”

The regulations also give an example of the process for submitting a request to opt-out requiring more steps than a user to opt-in to the sale of personal information.

It also prohibits companies from forcing users to “click through or listen to reasons why they should not submit a request to opt-out before confirming their request” and prohibits companies from forcing users to scroll through a privacy policy or something similar to find the opt-out request.

California’s Consumer Privacy Act is widely considered the most robust data privacy law in the country. Other states have begun passing their own privacy laws in the absence of one at the federal level.

“California is at the cutting edge of online privacy protection, and this newest approval by OAL [Office of Administrative Law] clears even more hurdles in empowering consumers to exercise their rights under the California Consumer Privacy Act,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “These protections ensure that consumers will not be confused or misled when seeking to exercise their data privacy rights. The regulations include an eye-catching Privacy Options icon that guides consumers to where they can opt-out of the sale of their personal information.”

On a national level, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced last month that it would begin looking into “dark patterns.” The agency is holding a virtual workshop in April to “explore the ways in which user interfaces can have the effect, intentionally or unintentionally, of obscuring, subverting, or impairing consumer autonomy, decision-making, or choice.”

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*First Published: Mar 16, 2021, 9:08 am CDT