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A dark pattern is "a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills." The neologism, dark pattern, was coined by Harry Brignull on July 28, 2010 with the registration of darkpatterns.org, a "pattern library with the specific goal of naming and shaming deceptive user interfaces." Another more broad definition of a dark pattern is an instance where "user value is supplanted in favor of shareholder value."
Bait-and-switch patterns advertise a free (or at a greatly reduced price) product or service that is wholly unavailable or stocked in small quantities. After it is apparent that the product is no longer available, other products similar to the one advertised (but with higher prices or being of lesser quality) are presented to the viewer of the site.
This is common in software installers, where the user is presented a button in the fashion of a typical continuation button. It is common to accept the program's terms of service, so a dark pattern would show a prominent "I accept these terms" button asking the user to accept the terms of a program unrelated to the one they are trying to install. Since the user typically will accept the terms by force of habit, the unrelated program can subsequently be installed. The installer's authors do this because they are paid by the authors of the unrelated program for each installation that they procure. The alternative route in the installer, allowing the user to skip installing the unrelated program, is much less prominently displayed, or seems counter-intuitive (such as declining the terms of service).
This pattern also is used by some websites, where the user is shown a page that asks for information that is not required. For example, one would fill out a username and password on one page, and after clicking the "next" button, the user is asked for their email address with another "next" button as the only option. It is not apparent that the step may be skipped and simply pressing "next" without entering the personal information sought, the website just continues to the next page. In some cases, a method to skip the step is visible, but not shown as a button (instead, usually, presented as a small and greyed-out link) so that it does not stand out to the user. Other examples of sites using this pattern are those offering a way of inviting friends by entering their email address, to upload a profile picture, or to identify interests.
A roach motel or a trammel net design, provides an easy or straightforward path to get into something, but is difficult to get out of. Examples of the application of such a devices to Internet interfaces include businesses that require subscribers to print and mail their opt-out or cancellation request.
Research on Dark Patterns
- A study in 2019 has investigated practices on 11.000 shopping web sites. A total number of 1818 dark patterns were identified and grouped into 15 categories.
- Social media anti-privacy practices are documented in privacy dark patterns in two publications from 2016 and 2017
- The Norwegian consumer council (Forbrukerrådet) has published the report Deceived by Design" in 2018 which describes deceptive user interface designs with popular social media platforms.
The European Union General Data Protection Regulation requires that a user's informed consent to processing of their personal information be unambiguous, freely-given, and specific to each usage of personal information. This is intended to prevent attempts to have users unknowingly accept all data processing by default (which violates the regulation).
In April 2019, the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) issued a proposed design code for the operations of social networking services when used by minors, which prohibits using "nudges" to draw users into options that have low privacy settings. This code would be enforceable under the GDPR.
On April 9, 2019, U.S. senators Deb Fischer and Mark Warner introduced the Deceptive Experiences To Online Users Reduction (DETOUR) Act, which would make it illegal for companies with more than 100 million monthly active users to use dark patterns when seeking consent to use their personal information.
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