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Thursday, August 18, 2022

How companies subtly trick users online with ‘dark patterns’

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Countless popular websites and apps, from retailers and travel services to social media companies, use so-called “dark stereotypes” or gentle coercive design tactics that Critics say is used to manipulate people’s digital behavior.

The term “dark pattern” was coined by Harry Brignull, a UK-based user experience expert and researcher of human-computer interaction. Brignull began to notice that when he reported to one of his clients that most of his test subjects felt cheated by some aspect of their website or app design, the client Item seems to be very welcome feedback.

“That’s always intrigued me as a researcher, because usually the name of the game is to find vulnerabilities and fix them,” Brignull told CNN Business. “Now we’re finding the ‘flaws’ that customers seem to like and want to keep.”

To put it in Silicon Valley terms, he realized it was a feature, not a bug.

Brignull began to speak out about this approach and quickly realized that he was not alone in his frustration. In 2010, he started a website to document cases, darkpatterns.org. The site has since been renamed and now features hundreds of examples of various sub-design steps used to trick users into doing something. In the more than a decade since Brignull started the site, the sophistication of digital dark swatches has only evolved.

These design tactics have come under scrutiny in recent months, including lawsuits against tech companies and proposed legislation to protect consumers. But as some take a closer look at the approach, the problem may be complicated by how interwoven dark patterns have become when creating digital services and even some confusion. around the definition of the term.

“Everybody has a different definition,” says Nir Eyal, a behavior designer and author of the widely shared Silicon Valley book, “Hooked: How to Build Visual Products become a habit.” Eyal said he tries to help companies build healthy habits in users’ lives, but his focus is on doing so through “convincing design”.

“A dark pattern that uses coercion,” says Eyal. “Coercion is getting you to do things you later regret. … Persuasion is getting people to do things they want to do, things they don’t regret.” Some coercion and persuasion tactics can be similar, he says, but he says it’s important to see what the design pattern is trying to get you to do.

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The use of “trace” or psychology that encourages people to continue using the product on a daily basis to create a habit of using the product, seems like a distraction mechanism on a social media app or a helpful reminder to continue learning another language through Duolingo, says Eyal.

The growing push to remove dark patterns

So far this year, there have been numerous lawsuits against tech companies known for their alleged use of dark models to mislead users.

In March, Karl Racine, attorney general of Washington, DC, sue Grubhub for allegedly misleading customers about hidden fees “by grouping them with taxes at checkout,” according to a notice of the lawsuit. Racine’s office added: “This practice forms a ‘dark pattern.'” In a statement at the time, a Grubhub spokesman told CNN that its operations are “always in compliance with DC law” and noted that “many of the activities in question have been discontinued.”
Multiple attorneys general have also sued Google over the use of dark pattern to motivate users to provide more location data. Racine, who was also part of that suit, accused that Google “uses tricks to continually seek to track users’ locations.” A Google spokesperson told the Washington Post in January that the case was “based on inaccurate statements and outdated assertions about our settings.”
Lawmakers from the Beltway to Brussels have also recently begun to notice dark patterns. A bipartisan group of six US lawmakers released a Joint statement last month in favor of legislation aimed at dismantling dark patterns, more than a year after the bill were introduced to legislators. Letter of the bill states that it seeks to “prohibit the use of exploitative and deceptive practices by major online operators and to promote consumer welfare in the use of behavioral research by advertisers.” provide such.”
The Federal Trade Commission has issued a enforcement policy statement late last year warned companies “against the implementation of illegal dark patterns that trick or trap consumers into subscription services.” The new policy statement outlines three key requirements that businesses must follow: clear and conspicuous disclosure of all important product or service terms; obtain the consumer’s explicit consent before charging them; and provide a simple and easy cancellation process for consumers. The agency added that it is ramping up enforcement in response to “the growing number of claims of financial harm caused by fraudulent registration tactics, including unauthorized charges or irrevocable ongoing payments.”
In Europe, a Norwegian consumer advocacy group filed a complaint with the country’s consumer protection agency last year, alleging that Amazon’s Prime cancellation process design violated Union law. Europe. The Norwegian Consumer Council reported to authorities that unsubscribing requires scrolling through six pages and making some complicated selections. In one statement At the time, the group accused Amazon of “manipulating consumers to maintain subscriptions.”
Just this month, EU consumer protection arm announced that Amazon will change Prime cancellation methods to comply with EU consumer rules. This includes allowing customers to cancel their Prime subscription “with just two clicks” as well as a prominent and clear “use cancel button”. ” In one public statementAmazon says “transparency and customer trust is a top priority for us. By design, we make it clear for customers to sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. and simple.”

Eyal says he thinks there should be regulation of dark models, but he says there are other ways to get companies to stop the behavior, including simply calling attention. to it. He cites for example, Brignull’s website as a historical archive of various dark patterns throughout the years – many of which went down after being called out.

“When companies are shamed and publicly criticized for using these techniques, they almost always dismiss that dark model,” he said. For example, he said it used to be common for companies to buy a flight online using “basket techniques” to add flight insurance and other fees that customers wouldn’t notice until after they bought a flight. pay.

“When people know that this is happening, not only do they not want to do business with those companies, but they tell all their friends not to do business with those companies,” Eyal said. “So what you see is when companies are embarrassed when they use these, these dark stereotypes, they almost always stop.”

The balance of power is shifting in the tech industry

For his part, Brignull said he has spent time testifying as an expert witness in several class-action lawsuits involving dark patterns in the UK. “Scams don’t work when the victim knows what the scammer is trying to do,” says Brignull. “If they knew what a scam was, they wouldn’t have gotten their hands on it – and that’s why I’d love to expose these things and show them to other consumers.”

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I am passionate about journalism and using new technology to spread news. I am also interested in politics and economics, and I am always looking for ways to make a difference in the world. I am the CEO of Janaseva News, and I am 24 years old.

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