ICPEN Sweep finds majority of websites and mobile apps use dark patterns in the marketing of subscription services

A global internet sweep that examined the websites and mobile apps of 642 traders has found that 75,7% of them employed at least one dark pattern, and 66,8% of them employed two or more dark patterns.

Dark patterns are defined as practices commonly found in online user interfaces and that steer, deceive, coerce, or manipulate consumers into making choices that often are not in their best interests.

This year’s annual International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) Sweep took place between January 29 and February 2, 2024. It involved participants, or “sweepers,” from 27 consumer protection enforcement authorities in 26 countries around the world.

For the first time, the ICPEN sweep was coordinated with the Global Privacy Enforcement Network (GPEN). GPEN is a network of over 80 privacy enforcement authorities, which aims to foster cross-border cooperation across privacy regulators and strengthen personal privacy protections in an increasingly global market.

The collaboration recognizes the growing intersection between consumer protection and other regulatory spheres. In the case of deceptive design patterns, it was clear to both privacy and consumer protection sweepers that many websites and apps employ techniques that interfere with individuals’ ability to make choices that best protect their consumer or privacy rights.

Sweepers evaluated the sites and apps based on six indicators identified by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as being characteristic of dark commercial patterns [1].

The ICPEN report found that potential sneaking practices, such as the inability of the consumer to turn off auto-renewal of subscription service, and interface interference, for example making a subscription that is advantageous to the trader more prominent, were encountered especially frequent during the sweep.

Both ICPEN and GPEN, who are working together to improve consumer and privacy protection for individuals around the world, published reports outlining their findings today. The ICPEN report can be found here and GPEN report can be found on their website.

ICPEN Dark Patterns in Subscription Services Sweep Public Report

[1] Dark Commercial Patterns: OECD Digital Economy Papers” (OECD Publishing, October 26, 2022), 9-11,