CFPB, FTC Tackle “Dark Patterns,” Recurring Subscription Charges

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission are teaming up to fight “dark patterns” and “negative option” subscription charges. The regulators are concerned about deceptive practices that mislead people into subscriptions or other recurring payments for products and services they do not want. 

In a “circular” released this week, the CFPB described negative option programs as including “subscription services that automatically renew unless the consumer affirmatively cancels, and trial marketing programs that charge a reduced fee for an initial period and then automatically begin charging a higher fee.”

The agencies warn against the combination of negative option subscription charges with “dark patterns,” or those design elements in technology products or websites that trick people into certain behaviors without their consent.

Corporations on the wrong side of good behavior in this area, often (a) fail to disclose important information about their recurring services to consumers; (b) fail to get proper, informed consent from consumers for the subscriptions, and (c) force consumers to jump through hoops to cancel the service.

With the growing consumer complaints and businesses engaging in dishonest digital marketing, the agencies thought it right to bring these shady practices into the light.

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