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Get Rid Off The Green Buttons. It’s Pure Manipulation

The Digital Service Act, DSA, will put an end to the manipulation of users by design, which traditional media use extensively as an active part of the surveillance internet.

Last week, the EU Parliament passed a new law, the Digital Service Act, DSA, to regulate digital services. The publicist media have mostly focused on the DSA giving them special status, so social media can’t just delete their content, as they often do with content that is flagged as illegal and untrue. But there are several interesting aspects that the media should have unfolded to their users – and acted on themselves – a long time ago.

The DSA gives European users the right to have the same experience on a website, whether they say yes or no to targeted, personalised marketing. That kind of marketing means massive data collection, data sharing and profiling of anyone who doesn’t actively say ‘no’. There are new transparency requirements; who is behind and why am I getting this ad. Sensitive data, such as political, religious and sexual orientation, will be banned from personalisation. And finally, ‘dark patterns’ will be banned.

Dark patterns are when a website, through its design, lures users to go in a certain direction, buy or say yes to something. Manipulation by design. This could be making the yes button for tracking cookies green and the no button grey, or making the user go through multiple clicks to opt out of monitoring. The example is specifically mentioned in the DSA as a ‘dark pattern’, which is why many media sites are in a hurry, because they – like many others – are big consumers of green yes buttons.

So before the DSA is finally adopted in the Council of Ministers – perhaps before the summer break, if the French leadership has its way – the media sites might as well get their act together and get their websites legal. Because even if ‘dark patterns’ were to go against the law, it is unethical to manipulate your users by design.

No democratisation
Most European media are certainly happy that a proposal to completely ban targeted marketing was taken off the table. After all, they are themselves an active part of the massive surveillance taking place. Democracy campaigners, privacy-focused companies and even several politicians like Christel Schaldemose, chief negotiator at the DSA, were in favour of a ban, so that only so-called contextual ads would be legal. Here you get ads for what you are looking for, not because the website knows you so well that it can predict what you are interested in.

With neither the media nor the EU curbing the unfair use of our data, it's up to citizens themselves to say no 

Editor-in-chief of markedsfø Andreas Marckmann Andreasen writes at The EU Observer that 81% of European media’s digital revenues come from advertising. However, he does not know how much comes from personalised or contextual ads, but he believes a ban would hurt small and medium-sized businesses. Even though it is undoubtedly Google and Facebook that rake in the lion’s share on targeted advertising.

When neither the media nor the EU curb the unfair use of our data, it’s up to citizens themselves to say no. You can do this by installing in your Chrome browser, if you insist on using Google’s. It is the only major browser that uses tracking cookies as a default setting. Alternatively, you can use other good browsers such as Firefox, Brave, Safari and Vivaldi, as they all automatically block tracking cookies and thus the massive monitoring.

This article was published in Danish at Politiken

We used for the main part of the translations from Danish into English