Dark Patterns - Conned by Design

Saturday March 28th 2020 by SocraticDev

Dark Patterns are elements of the interface design intentionally designed to lure users to take unwanted actions benefiting the company in question. In other words, Dark Patterns are tricks exploited by websites and applications to manipulate us into doing unwanted things; like buying or signing up for something.

Harry Brignull is the designer who coined the term "Dark Patterns" in 2010. Recently, Harry has started providing expert witness services related to the dark patterns.

Most web users do not read the entire content of sites. We quickly scan the content and take action based on assumptions about the most plausible scenarios. By relying first on appearances we are sometimes lured by devious companies. Web designers sometimes take advantage of this to induce their users to perform unwanted actions.

These dubious schemes are practiced by several large websites like Amazon, LinkedIn and Ticketmaster. The non-commercial part of Amazon's website is recognized for its Kafkaesque complexity. For example, to deactivate its own account, a user must blindly navigate through several menus before finally having to chat online with an agent responsible for customer service. LinkedIn, by taking advantage of the location and color of certain buttons, was sneakily trying to acquire the user's contacts list in order to massively distribute its advertising by email. LinkedIn was also forced to pay damages over $13 millions to users deceived by this practice. Finally, Ticketmaster and LiveNation are said to be in the habit of subscribing unwary concert ticket buyers to magazines like RollingStone or Entertainnment Weekly by hiding a check box already checked on their purchase forms. Unfortunate because the only way to cancel the subscription would be to print a form, fill it out, pay a stamp and send it by post ...

Londoner Alexander Darlington, curator of the site darkpatterns.org, categorized and baptized these designed scams according to a certain air de famille:

  • Trick Questions;
  • Sneak into the basket;
  • Roach Motel;
  • Privacy Zuckering;
  • Price Comparison Prevention;
  • Misdirection;
  • Hidden Costs;
  • Bait and Switch;
  • Confirmshaming;
  • Disguised Ads;
  • Forced Continuity;
  • Friends Spam.

Dark Patterns are constantly evolving. New scams are daily developed and deployed. However, once informed of the fraudulent aspect of certain designs, the best counter-attack is to reveal them in the public space. Home-specialist Alexander Darlington suggests attacking offenders back by taking screenshots of a trap and tweeting it with the hashtag #darkpattern.

Good hunt !