Their faces give nothing away. It’s a Thursday afternoon in March 2021, and the Communications and Technology subcommittee of the 117th Congress is holding a joint hearing online. Three of the world’s most powerful people have been invited to give testimony in a session called ‘Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation’.1 Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google; Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter; and Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO of Facebook.

It’s the moment I’ve been waiting for. The camera cuts to House Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester. She introduces the concept of dark patterns and defines them as ‘intentionally deceptive user interfaces that trick people’. She asks Pichai, Dorsey and Zuckerberg:

‘Would you oppose legislation that bans the use of intentionally manipulative design techniques that trick users into giving up their personal information?’

As the camera cuts to each of the CEOs, we see a stark difference. Lisa Blunt Rochester is sitting in a tiny wooden booth, connected with a grainy laptop webcam, but each one of the CEOs is evidently on a film set with professional lighting, cameras and microphones.

Picahi replies promisingly, ‘​​We definitely are happy to have oversight on these areas.’

Dorsey replies with just three words, ‘Open to it.’

Zuckerberg is more evasive. ‘Congresswoman, I think the principle makes sense and the details matter.’

His reply seems to antagonise Blunt Rochester, who pushes him further: ‘OK. Mr Zuckerberg, your company recently conducted this massive ad campaign on how far the internet has come in the last 25 years. Great ad. You ended with a statement: “We support updated internet regulations to address today’s challenges.” Unfortunately, the proposal that you direct your viewers to fails to address dark patterns, user manipulation, or deceptive design choices. Mr Zuckerberg, will you commit now to include deceptive design choices as part of your platform for better internet regulations?’

Buy the book to

Since 2010, Harry Brignull has dedicated his career to understanding and exposing the techniques that are employed to exploit users online, known as “deceptive patterns” or “dark patterns”. He is credited with coining a number of the terms that are now popularly used in this research area, and is the founder of the website He has worked as an expert witness on a number of cases, including Nichols v. Noom Inc. ($56 million settlement), and FTC v. Publishers Clearing House LLC ($18.5 million settlement). Harry is also an accomplished user experience practitioner, having worked for organisations that include Smart Pension, Spotify, Pearson, HMRC, and the Telegraph newspaper.