Dark Patterns are the tricks used in websites and apps that make you do things that you didn’t mean to, like buying or signing up for something. Companies prioritize their goals like increasing sales or revenues, on top of the user’s goal. It is achieved by powers of visual design along with the help of slight deception and misdirection.

These patterns automatically enroll us in a newsletter, because a certain default box we didn’t notice was checked. The shadow of a dark pattern arises when items are added to a shopping cart that the customer hasn’t selected, and inadvertently purchases. They are present in experiences that make it difficult for customers to unsubscribe or delete an account which are/were present in big companies like Amazon, Gobble etc where the user tries to delete their account for some reason but the process is so lengthy and tiresome, it makes the user not to proceed any further and hence doesn’t delete the account.

Types of Dark Patterns:

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.

The meaning of checkboxes is alternated to trick the customer

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 radio button or checkbox on a prior page.

FIRST PRICE-17$
FINAL PRICE- 154$

This is far from the $17.00 shown on the first page. Several things have been sneaked into the basket — 2 years of domain registration for all four domains (instead of one year, as indicated on the pricing on the first page), and privacy protection. To add to this, the actual pricing of each item was misleading on the first page.

You get into a situation very easily, but then you find it is hard to get out of it (e.g. a premium subscription).

You are tricked into publicly sharing more information about yourself than you really intended to. Named after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

You set out to do one thing, but a different, undesirable thing happens instead.

Microsoft’s misguided approach during 2016, to getting people to upgrade their computers to Windows 10:

They started as an honest, optional call to action, but became increasingly deceptive. They switched the meaning of the “X” button at the top right to mean the opposite of what it normally means. In all other versions of Windows going back to the 1980s, this button means “close”.

The retailer makes it hard for you to compare the price of an item with another item, so you cannot make an informed decision.

You get to the last step of the checkout process, only to discover some unexpected charges have appeared. Example:

The site advertises a monthly prescription based bottle to the subscriber at $19.95/month. The cost however is not that, it is $19.95 + $4.95 (shipping) which is revealed much later in the process of registering.

The design purposefully focuses your attention on one thing to distract your attention from another.

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.

Amazon uses confirmshaming to guilt users and discourages them from opting out.

Adverts that are disguised as other kinds of content or navigation, to get you to click on them. Example:

Screenshot of dafont.com showing two different disguised ads and how they look like a part of the main content of the site.

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.

The product asks for your email or social media permissions under the pretence it will be used for a desirable outcome (e.g. finding friends), 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.

Dark Patterns have been growing gradually. Initially, they were very obvious and discouraged the user which resulted in short term profits. But with time, they have been improved in such a way that an aware also gets into it without realizing the pattern.

There are no easy solutions or alternatives to dark patterns. Industry insiders like Bunker (2013) have suggested that designers should have an ethical code of conduct where privacy, honesty and respect should be the core elements.

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