ICO and CMA Collaborate to Combat Detrimental Web Design Strategies

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) have partnered to fight harmful website design practices. Their joint position paper, titled “Harmful Design in Digital Markets,” urges businesses to prioritize user control, informed decision-making, and compliance with data protection, consumer, and competition laws.

One concerning practice highlighted in the paper is called “confirmshaming.” This manipulative tactic guilt-trips or embarrasses users into making specific choices, which violates the UK General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Another issue raised in the paper is “biased framing,” where choices are presented in a positive or negative light, potentially swaying users towards a particular option without providing all the necessary information. The ICO and CMA stress the importance of designing websites with the user in mind, empowering them with choice and control.

The paper also addresses “bundled consent,” where multiple consents for different purposes are combined into one option. This limits user control over personal information and undermines data protection principles and informed decision-making.

To address these concerns, the ICO and CMA are inviting businesses to a workshop that provides guidance and support for complying with relevant laws and prioritizing user welfare.

Stephen Almond, the ICO’s Executive Director for Regulatory Risk, and Will Hayter, the CMA’s Senior Director in the Digital Markets Unit, emphasize the significance of protecting data and preventing anti-competitive behavior in digital markets. Failing to meet the regulators’ expectations not only exposes businesses to regulatory action but also undermines consumer trust.

The paper also highlights the use of “harmful nudges” or “sludge” in website design. These subtle prompts steer users towards unintended or poorly thought-out choices, compromising their ability to make informed decisions. The ICO and CMA urge businesses to avoid design elements that erode user control over personal information.

As part of their commitment, the ICO will assess cookie banners on frequently visited UK websites and take necessary action to ensure compliance and protect users’ privacy.

The collaboration between the ICO and CMA demonstrates a united effort to safeguard consumer interests and promote fair competition. By leveraging their expertise and resources, the regulators aim to create a digital landscape that respects user autonomy, safeguards data privacy, and encourages informed decision-making.

Interested parties can find a copy of the ICO and CMA position paper on the ICO’s website, offering valuable insights into their collaborative efforts and comprehensive guidance for businesses seeking to align their website designs with best practices.

In conclusion, the ICO and CMA’s joint position paper calls on businesses to prioritize user control, informed decision-making, and compliance with relevant laws. By addressing harmful website design practices, the regulators strive to create a digital environment that promotes user welfare, protects data privacy, and ensures fair competition in digital markets.

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