PACS news / November 15, 2021

Stanford PACS’ Digital Civil Society Lab to House Dark Patterns Tip Line for Identifying Deceptive Digital Designs

Stanford scholars will leverage new innovative public resource developed by Consumer Reports and civil society partners to advance research, policy, and practice in ethical digital design and consumer protection.

Palo Alto – The Digital Civil Society Lab (DCSL) at Stanford PACS is thrilled to announce that it will provide a permanent home for the Dark Patterns Tip Line, a unique public resource for identifying and addressing deceptive and harmful design practices for apps and websites. 

Dark patterns are common design tactics used in websites and apps to coerce users into doing things they probably would not do otherwise—such as share their personal information, consent to hidden fees, or sign up for unwanted subscriptions. Dark patterns are hard to spot because they’re designed to deceive users, and can create serious, irreversible harms. 

As a valuable tool for research in this understudied area of digital design, the Tip Line will serve the Stanford community, teachers and researchers across the country, and community partners and leaders across industries and government to better understand the ways in which dark patterns hurt people.

The Dark Patterns Tip Line was supported by Rita Allen Foundation, the Digital Lab at Consumer Reports, Access Now,, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and PEN America as an experiment to crowdsource examples of dark patterns and connect these to actual harms experienced by community members. That experiment yielded hundreds of submissions, stemming from people’s experiences with deceptive and dishonest tactics across a wide range of digital interfaces. Hosted by Consumer Reports during this early experimental phase, the site now moves to the Digital Civil Society Lab to become a permanent resource for research and teaching about deceptive design in digital systems.

“We’re thrilled to take on the hosting of the Dark Patterns Tip Line,” says Lucy Bernholz, Senior Research Scholar at Stanford PACS and Director of the Digital Civil Society Lab. “It is a great example of digital civil society in action, and the lab is excited to help researchers, teachers, and communities continue to build and use it.”

The creators of the project, Jasmine E. McNealy, associate professor at the Department of Telecommunication, University of Florida, and Stephanie T. Nguyen, public interest technologist, launched the project in May 2021. The DCSL team, with Dr. Jennifer King, Privacy Fellow at the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI), is excited to create and curate pedagogical materials in collaboration with Stanford colleagues in computer science, privacy, and at HAI, and other universities, community groups, and critical public interest technologists. These materials include practical and project-based tools for identifying, classifying, analyzing, and combating dark patterns using both computational and public policy methodologies. They are also planning to design and teach a public policy class specifically addressing dark patterns, their expanding reach in society, the range of harms they can create, and potential public policy solutions. 

You can submit materials to the Dark Patterns Tip Line here

Read about key early learnings from the Dark Patterns Tip Line via Consumer Reports Civic Science Fellow Stephanie Nguyen and the Rita Allen Foundation.

For more information on the Tip Line or the Digital Civil Society Lab at Stanford PACS, please email Lucy Bernholz at