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What are Dark Patterns

This information on Dark Patterns can be found on the website of Harry Brignull, a User Experience (UX) specialist.

Dark Patterns are tricks used in websites that make you do things that you didn't mean to do, like buying or signing up for something. When you browse websites, you usually don’t read every word - you make assumptions. When a company wants to get you do doing something, they can make a page look like it is saying one thing but really does another. You can defend yourself by learning about Dark Patterns.

Types of Dark Patterns

  • Trick questions
    While filling in a form you respond to a question that tricks you into giving an answer you didn't intend. When glanced upon quickly the question appears to ask one thing, but when read carefully it asks another thing entirely. This is very common when registering with a service. Typically a series of checkboxes is shown, and the meaning of the checkboxes is alternated so that ticking the first one means "opt out" and the second means "opt in". Confusing language is often also used.
  • Sneak into Basket
    You attempt to purchase something, but somewhere in the purchasing journey the site sneaks an additional item into your basket, often through the use of an opt-out button or checkbox on a prior page.
  • Roach Motel
    You get into a situation very easily, but then you find it is hard to get out of it (e.g. a subscription).
  • Privacy Zuckering
    You are tricked into publicly sharing more information about yourself than you really intended to. Named after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Here's how it works: when you use a service (e.g. a store card), the small print hidden in the Terms and Conditions gives them permission to sell your personal data. Data brokers buy it and combine it with everything else they find about you online into a profile, which they then resell. The industry is currently not well regulated and it is very difficult to opt out of having your data brokered.
  • Price Comparison Prevention
    The retailer makes it hard for you to compare the price of one item with another item, so you cannot make an informed decision. Retailers typically achieve this by creating different packages where it is not easy work out the unit price of the items within the package. This was a common practice with mobile phone salespeople.
  • Misdirection
    The design purposefully focuses your attention on one thing in order to distract you attention from another.
  • Hidden Costs
    You get to the last step of the checkout process, only to discover some unexpected charges have appeared, e.g. delivery charges, etc.
  • Bait and Switch
    You set out to do one thing, but a different, undesirable thing happens instead. The most famous example of digital bait and switch was Microsoft’s misguided approach to getting people to upgrade their computers to Windows 10.
  • Confirmshaming
    The act of guilting the user into opting into something. The option to decline is worded in such a way as to shame the user into compliance. The most common use is to get a user to sign up for a mailing list.
  • Disguised Ads
    Ads that are disguised as other kinds of content or navigation, in order to get you to click on them. Softpedia is a popular software download site. One of their sources of revenue is display advertising. They often run ads that look like a download button, tricking users into clicking on the ads rather than getting the thing they wanted.
  • Forced Continuity
    When your free trial with a service comes to an end and your credit card silently starts getting charged without any warning. In some cases this is made even worse by making it difficult to cancel the membership.
  • Friend Spam
    The product asks for your email or social media permissions under the pretense it will be used for finding friends, etc., but then spams all your contacts in a message that claims to be from you. The most famous example of this dark pattern was used by Linkedin, which resulted in them being fined $13 million dollars as part of a class action lawsuit in 2015. As part of the sign-up process to Linkedin, they encourage you to give them access to your email account, on the premise that it will give "your career a strong network". The hidden agenda is that they want this access so they can secretly send invitation emails to all of your contacts, falsely claiming to be sent by you rather than by Linkedin.

For more detailed information please visit the website Dark Patterns.


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