Strengthening EU proposals on deceptive platform design

Policy Brief

Executive Summary

The design of digital platforms like social networks, search engines, online shops and video apps shapes billions of people’s online experiences every day. Design plays a crucial role in how users view and share content on platforms such as Facebook or YouTube; it also determines how easy it is for users to change privacy settings or delete an account. Corporate design choices can thus affect the online spaces where people form opinions on societal and political issues. Therefore, sensible democratic oversight and independent scrutiny over these company decisions are of critical importance.

Only recently have lawmakers in the European Union (EU) started to incorporate matters of platform design into their deliberations. A case in point is the EU’s flagship legislative proposal on platform regulation, the Digital Services Act (DSA): In the original draft, it did not include a dedicated article on platform design and subsequent additions remain ambiguous. The DSA needs to place stronger emphasis on platform design if it is to become a truly progressive piece of European platform legislation. EU lawmakers should seize the opportunity to establish a comprehensive transparency framework for platform design. This policy briefing argues that an article on platform design, as suggested by the European Parliament (Article 13a), should be part of the DSA and proposes improvements to the specific texts under discussion. Most importantly, the DSA should establish a clear definition of deceptive design and the dedicated design article should include both a ban on such practices and reporting obligations for platforms. To ensure strong and consistent enforcement, the DSA should also strengthen interdisciplinary exchange on design matters and introduce quicker evaluation processes.

Published by: 
Stiftung Neue Verantwortung
March 15, 2022

Dr. Julian Jaursch