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Dark Patterns

Context: Some Internet-based firms have been tricking users into agreeing to certain conditions or clicking a few links through “dark patterns,” also known as “deceptive patterns.”

Background of Dark Patterns

  • These users would not have accepted such terms or clicked URLs (uniform resource locator), if not for the deceptive tactics used by tech firms.
  • Such acceptances and clicks have resulted in arrival of promotional emails that users never wanted, making it hard to unsubscribe or request deletion.


What are Dark Patterns?

  • Dark Patterns are carefully crafted interface designs that deliberately make individual’s Internet experience harder or even exploit them.
    • They in turn benefit the company or platform employing the designs.
  • Dark Patterns are used by digital platforms to take away a user’s right to full information about the services they are using, and reduce their control over their browsing experience.
  • Origin: The origin of the term is credited to UI/UX (user interface/user experience) researcher and designer Harry Brignull.


Dark Pattern Tactics

  • Baseless countdowns for online deals
  • Terms and conditions in fine print that add on to costs
  • Making cancellation buttons hard to see or click
  • Making sponsored ads appear as news reports or celebrity endorsements
  • Auto-playing videos on sites
  • Forcing users to create accounts to finish a particular transaction
  • Silently charging credit cards after end of free trial
  • Using dull colours to hide information that users should be aware


Use of Dark Patterns

  • Big Techs such as Apple, Amazon, Skype, Facebook, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Google have been using dark patterns to downgrade the user experience to their advantage.
  • Example 1: Amazon has attracted criticism in EU for its confusing, multi-step cancellation process for the Amazon Prime subscription.
  • Later, it was forced to make its cancellation process easier for online customers in European countries.
  • Example 2: LinkedIn users often receive unwanted, sponsored messages from influencers. Disabling this option is a complex process that needs users to be familiar with the platform controls.
  • Example 3: In order to popularise their own video creating platform, Instagram was showing users posts they did not wish to see and that they were unable to permanently set preferences.
  • Sponsored video ads are being sandwiched between reels and stories that users originally opted to view.
  • Example 4: YouTube nudges users to opt for YouTube Premium with pop-ups, obscuring the final seconds of a video with thumbnails of other videos.
  • Example 5: Amazon launching a supposedly ‘free’ children’s app that fooled its young users into making in-app purchases that their parents had to pay for.


Impact of Dark Patterns on Users

  • Exploitation: Dark Patterns endanger the user experience and make them more vulnerable to financial and data exploitation by Big Tech firms.
  • Time consuming: Dark Patterns confuse users by introducing online obstacles that make simple tasks time-consuming.
  • Other impacts: Dark Patterns make users sign up for unwanted services, and force them to pay more money or share additional personal information than they intended.



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