User Influencing and a Pragmatic Role for Competition Authorities

Over the past decade, user influencing practices have gained prominence in academic and digital policy debates in Europe. These practices include dark patterns, dark nudges, sludge, and highly personalised processes such as hypernudging. In essence, they rely on manipulating users’ cognitive and environmental constraints to steer their behaviour in a predictable manner. Growing empirical evidence of harms have triggered regulatory responses in the recent Digital Services Act, Digital Markets Act, Artificial Intelligence Act, and Data Act. In addition, the enforcement guidance documents were updated to sharpen the application of EU data protection and consumer laws to capture these practices. In this blog post, I focus on European competition law as an alternative instrument that has so far been largely overlooked in user influencing debates. As user influencing may lead to distortion of competition and consumer harm, competition authorities should take a more active, yet pragmatic, role in addressing these challenges.

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