UI Development

Dark Patterns: Not Bad, But Evil

Features of interface design crafted to trick users into doing things they might not want to do, but which benefits the business in question.

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The term was coined by Harry Brignull, who later created a site to classify and shame the practice.

The choices offered to the user are intentionally misdirected to be deceptive. The online community today experience very content-overloaded realm, Users just skim read and make assumptions. The dark patterns exploit the human psychology and benefits from it.

Early Dark Patterns

In the early web, these patterns were very basic, and could’ve been avoided easily. Like a popup showing that you’ve won a lottery, Or your system needs to update etc.

However, dark patterns are evil in varying degrees (some even illegal), and often very deliberately, used on many types of websites and apps where either money or data is transmitted from user to company.

 

Modern Dark Patterns

As the web evolved, so did the UX and with that the deceptive dark patterns. Based on the behavior modern dark patterns are classified as:

 

Bait and Switch

This is a pattern wherein a user is looking to take an action that results in a desired outcome, but instead ends up resulting in something completely unforeseen.

  1. Display an alert
  2. Prompts user actions —- then
  3. After those actions are taken, provide a completely different result than expected.

Example:
This pattern was famously misused by Microsoft where it forced users to download the updates for its windows OS. Naturally, it faced a huge community backlash for this.

Disguised Ads

Since everyone wants all the services for free, Advertisement are unavoidable facet of the modern web. Since that doesn’t make it any less irritating, many users try to avoid the ads. To counter this, companies try to integrate the ads within the actual content.

Like sponsored content on Amazon, you see the content being displayed right next to other search items.

Example:

 

You can see that the downloading a particular APK is pretty-much confusing

 

Forced Continuity

Want free services for a month, just give us your credit cards details. This type of things happens regularly on various services like Netflix, PrimeNow etc. When the trial ends, you start getting charged. There’s no opportunity to opt out, no reminder, and no easy way to cancel the automatic charging of your credit card.

Example:

 

Forced Disclosure

Forced disclosure is a relatively painless initial commitment that requires a user to disclose private data that has little or nothing to do with the matter at hand. These are usually easy to spot. Just look for a long, overly complex, and invasive form that you must fill out in order to access locked content.

Example:

You need to signup for a free service (like web hosting), but apart from asking the required info, you’re also expected to fill up details like your organization, designation, company size etc.

 

Friend Spam

The most common dark pattern where the company asks users about their email, social media permissions etc., claiming to help them find colleagues, new friends etc. But instead spams all the contacts to join their site.

Example:

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.

 

Please note this above image is an old example.

 

Hidden Costs

Mostly followed by the eCommerce websites, the original cost shown to the user is different from the what user is charged at the checkout page. The additional charges might include taxes, delivery fees etc., but during the product display they’re not shown.

Example: Myntra; Airline Insurance

 
 

Misdirection

This pattern refers to the scenario how a magician distracts attention away from what he or she is really doing behind the scenes where the user is directed to take business preferred action instead of skipping it.

It is operated using vivid color, sneaky design or muddled wording.

Example: BMS;

After booking movie tickets, instead of showing up the tickets, user is taken to Snacks and Beverages menu along with offers.

 

Privacy Zuckering

Named after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, This pattern is about tricking the user to submitting more info than they intend to. This practice was common few years ago, But due to new transparent policies like GDPR, this has been controlled.

Facebook has been into many class action lawsuits due to this. Cambridge Analytica etc.

This also includes shadow profile of people who are not on Facebook.

 

Roach Motel

This scenario is when it’s easy to enter a situation, but very difficult to move out of it. Usually the exit process is hidden in multiple layer steps for example in case of amazon, if you need to close the account, you must visit through the correct flow to and then must reach out to customer helpline.

Example:

 

Trick Questions

These are the questions which appears to mean something, but when read carefully it means something else entirely. This practice is most common with signup/registration form where at the end there are agree and other newsletter options. Usually these newsletter check-boxes contain the text which is tricky to understand.

Example:

 

Conclusion

Inherently unfriendly dark patterns may fool some, but returns won’t ever be long-lasting — plus, the negative effects on reputation and affinity may ultimately be the undoing of a business.

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