Release: Dark patterns: Your apps know too much about you, so what can you do?

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Some apps follow you online, even when you’re not using them


PHILADELPHIA — When National Consumer Protection Week began in the late 1990s, many Americans still didn’t have internet access at home, let alone on mobile devices. Now, infringement on our online privacy is a huge threat, even when you just have apps running in the background. The new tips guide from U.S. PIRG Education Fund can help consumers control access to their private information and what companies can do with your data if they get it.

“Beyond the information that we post online, apps left in their default settings collect data about our daily lives — where we are, who our friends are and what we do online,” said Isabel Brown, U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Consumer Watchdog associate. “Companies then gather and — yes — buy and sell our data. We become commodities.”

Because the data collection and transactions happen behind the scenes, many consumers don’t know that’s happening. And once someone has your information, they may try to manipulate you into buying something or doing something you don’t mean to.

“Companies use the information they collect to send us targeted ads. Sometimes this can be helpful, but other times it’s downright creepy,” said Brown. “But consumers have the power to decide how their data is used, if at all.” 

Changing account settings can ensure that apps trying to employ “dark patterns” only get the information they need or are entitled to. 


Our tips guide, “Dark Patterns: A Step-By-Step Guide,” is part of U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s work to recognize National Consumer Protection Week 2022 by putting actionable consumer protection information in the hands of all Americans. All week, U.S. PIRG Education Fund is providing consumer protection tips and tools to help Americans address some of the most common consumer issues that threaten our health, safety or financial security. To see all of our resources for consumers, visit our site.