Retailer websites swept for ‘dark patterns’ by consumer watchdog

Manipulative trading practices push consumers to make choices they might not do otherwise

Hundreds of online sweeps have been undertaken by Irish authorities to identify the use of “dark patterns” on websites.

Dark patterns is a term used to describe manipulative trading practices which push consumers to make choices they might not otherwise make.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) said on Monday it had participated in a recent series of European Union-wide online sweeps to identify such practices.

Almost 400 sweeps were undertaken by the Consumer Protection Co-operation Network (CPC Network), which is comprised of the various EU national authorities who are responsible for enforcing consumer protection laws in EU and EEA countries.


The sweeps included websites of mainly EU-based traders selling clothing, electronic goods and household equipment, cosmetics and personal care goods, and food. The CCPC inspected the Irish websites of 16 well-known high street retailers.

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Although a wide range of dark patterns exist, the EU sweep focused on three specific areas of concern.

The first is fake countdown timers, which are designed to create a sense of urgency by falsely presenting an offer as time limited.

The second is a false hierarchy, which is when consumers are nudged to click on the trader’s preferred option by making it much more prominent, whether through visual design, colours or language.

The third is the hiding of information on a product or service by making it less visible by using very small fonts or placing information in a less prominent section of the website or application.

CCPC spokesman Kevin O’Brien said: “It’s vital that consumers can make informed decisions about the products they buy. Brands and traders should be aware that dark patterns, such as those identified during these EU-wide sweeps, are not acceptable, and consumer protection legislation applies.

“In an Irish context, from the select number of Irish traders reviewed, no clear infringements were identified, but we will continue to monitor traders who sell online and ensure they adhere to the law.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter