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Conference Proceeding

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Dark design (also known as deceptive design; Colin et al., 2018 and dark patterns; Mathur et al., 2019) is evidenced by “a user interface carefully crafted to trick users into doing things they might not otherwise do” (Brignull, 2022; page 1). Much dark design is constructed with monetization as the primary goal- even in spaces without ecommerce design (e.g., free-to-play apps representing >95% of all mobile apps; Fitton et al. 2021). Many recent dark design strategies are also oriented towards collecting user information. Concerns about children’s vulnerability to inappropriate online marketing and economic fraud, and the impact of organisational data collection upon children’s privacy are increasing (European Commission, 2022; OECD, 2011; OFCOM, 2022). Regulators have begun to recognize, challenge, and fine deceptive design practices aimed at children (e.g., $245 million Epic Games settlement; FTC 2022), however, the scope and extent of dark design practices is such that regulators alone cannot safeguard children from such practices. Parents, who are widely understood to be primarily responsible for children’s online experiences, and children themselves, need to be mindful of and resistant to dark design practices in online spaces. With this in mind, this paper explores the following questions: (a) What is the influence of dark design (1) across mediums (e.g., apps, video games, social media platforms, websites) and (2) across differently-aged children? (b) To what extent are parents aware of their children’s exposure to dark design and the risks such exposure poses? (c) How effective are marketplace and regulatory controls?