We believe you deserve transparency and control over how you’re being manipulated. Attention Settings demonstrates practical pathways for regulating attention-extracting products to increase consumer agency.
The attention economy uses persuasive design techniques to exploit human vulnerabilities and extract our attention. However, there isn’t a clear path forward when it comes to regulating the design of these products.
The EU’s recently introduced Digital Services Act includes a section about ‘dark patterns’:
“Under new rules, ‘dark patterns' are prohibited. Providers of online platforms will be required not to design, organise or operate their online interfaces in a way that deceives, manipulates or otherwise materially distorts or impairs the ability of users of their services to make free and informed decisions.”
The problem is, product design is a shady business — it isn’t black and white. The problem of manipulation and attention extraction goes far beyond dark patterns. Addictive loops are at the core of the user experience of the most popular social media platforms. The lines are blurry.
Attention Settings give users awareness over how they're being manipulated and tools to selectively opt-out of the most engaging features — to reclaim their attentional, cognitive, and behavioral sovereignty.
Here’s how it could work…
Products with over 10 million users could be required to provide a) transparency about the techniques they use to increase engagement and b) the option to opt-out of these techniques and features — as a condition for passing App Review.
If a product uses persuasive design, every one of these techniques and features should be listed on the AppStore nutrition card. The Attention Settings then provide the user with the option to opt-out. There could be an educational element to inform users about how these techniques work and why they might want to consider opting out.
Here are some examples of what these changes might look like in different apps:
Imagine you want to use Facebook for the purpose you signed up for: connecting with family and friends. The ability to choose a chronological feed, hide all short-form videos like Reels, and disable suggested content would make all the difference. The one on the right would be on your terms, showing you the content you want to see, without seducing you into binge-watching viral videos.