Centre for Digital Governance

Digital addiction by design: How to regulate persuasive design by Very Large Online Platforms in Europe

This paper explores the issue of digital addiction in Europe and explores options regulators may take in order to tackle the growing problem.

Digital addiction is a growing problem throughout Europe. This problem is significantly driven by a small number of Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) on which people spend most of their time online. VLOPs rely on persuasive design strategies to influence users and maximise the time they spend on the platform. Thus, the use of persuasive design strategies is linked to the prevalence of digital addiction in Europe. Despite recent advances in European regulation of the digital sphere, existing legislation does not sufficiently address persuasive design practices.

This paper identifies three policy approaches for the European Commission to limit the harm from persuasive design practices. Upon evaluation, the ‘Guide’ approach emerges as favourable, as it reduces digital addiction effectively, is regulatorily feasible, and leaves room for business and innovation. Finally, the paper proposes a stakeholder engagement strategy and three prioritised policy initiatives to establish a path to the adoption of the ‘Guide’ approach. The three initiatives aim at the collection of data, the consultation with experts to operationalise the ‘Guide’ approach and the definition of a framework for evaluation and enforcement.

Teaser photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash.