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Dark Patterns Across the Web Are Designed To Trick You 128

An anonymous reader writes from a report via Ars Technica: Harry Brignell has posted a 30-minute video documenting dark patterns, deliberately confusing or deceptive user interfaces (not exclusive to the internet) that trick users into setting up recurring payments, purchasing items added to a shopping cart, or spamming all contacts through pre-checked forms on Facebook games for example. Basically, they're tactics used by online services to get users to do things they wouldn't normally do. Yael Grauer has written an in-depth report on Ars Technica about dark patterns, where he discusses Brignull's work with UX designers and business executives: "Klein [Principal at Users Known and author of UX for Lean Startups] believes many of the worst dark patterns are pushed by businesses, not by designers. 'It's often pro-business at the expense of the users, and the designers often see themselves as the defender or advocate of the user,' she explained. And although Brignull has never been explicitly asked to design dark patterns himself, he said he has been in situations where using them would be an easy solution -- like when a client or boss says they really need a large list of people who have opted in to marketing e-mails. 'The first and easiest trick to have an opt-in is to have a pre-ticked checkbox, but then you can just get rid of that entirely and hide it in the terms of conditions and say that by registering you're going to be opted in to our e-mails,' Brignull said. 'Then you have a 100-percent sign-up rate and you've exceeded your goals. I kind of understand why people do it. If you're only thinking about the numbers and you're just trying to juice the stats, then it's not surprising in the slightest.' 'There's this logical positivist mindset that the only things that have value are those things that can be measured and can empirically be shown to be true, and while that has its merits it also takes us down a pretty dark place,' said digital product designer Cennydd Bowles, who is researching ethical design. 'We start to look at ethics as pure utilitarianism, whatever benefits the most people. Yikes, it has problems.'" Brignull's website has a number of examples of deliberately confusing or deceptive user interfaces.
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Dark Patterns Across the Web Are Designed To Trick You

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  • dark patterns huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <kepler1@hotmail.cGAUSSom minus math_god> on Thursday July 28, 2016 @10:40PM (#52604329)
    I might watch that video if it weren't trying to trick me into wasting 30 minutes to see the 6 examples that are the actual content.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I see what you did there, tricking me into reading your message.

    • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Thursday July 28, 2016 @11:03PM (#52604413) Homepage Journal

      That was my thought too - a video?
      AV is notoriously imprecise, and tricks people into judging by how they feel about the presentation instead of the actual contents.

      And, of course, as the old sysadmin adage goes, a picture takes up more bandwidth than a thousand words. And video is orders of magnitude worse.

      I also thought the new owners here listened to the discussion right after they took over, where they asked whether /.ers wanted video links or not. Overwhelmingly, we did not.

      • by Applehu Akbar ( 2968043 ) on Thursday July 28, 2016 @11:23PM (#52604483)

        Notice how news sites like CNN are gradually going all video? And not the good videos that explain a lot succinctly or put you into a snippet of the news action, but those excruciating new wastes of bandwidth that just display story text, in a giant font, screen after screen, backed by nothing but a musical bed, until you realize that you have spent ten minutes watching one paragraph of text.

        • by mlts ( 1038732 ) on Thursday July 28, 2016 @11:29PM (#52604513)

          I've seen a ton of sites do that. Makes the advertisers happy, but pisses off everyone else.

          On social media, if I find something like that, if I care to wait through it, I summarize and write a brief transcript, then tell people to be happy that I saved them 30 minutes for one paragraph of text.

        • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Thursday July 28, 2016 @11:56PM (#52604591) Homepage Journal

          Notice how news sites like CNN are gradually going all video? And not the good videos that explain a lot succinctly or put you into a snippet of the news action, but those excruciating new wastes of bandwidth that just display story text, in a giant font, screen after screen, backed by nothing but a musical bed, until you realize that you have spent ten minutes watching one paragraph of text.

          Yeah, it's like a powerpoint presentation set to music.
          I don't think it's possible to get the information to bandwidth ratio any lower than that, but I guess I shouldn't underestimate marketing and management. I'm sure they'll think of something.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          So, television is a dark pattern.
        • by houghi ( 78078 )

          You spend 10 minuts on a page with ads, so you saw the ads and that is what counts. Remember that you are the product.

          So spending more time on a page is what they want and they achieve it by making things slower for you.

        • by trawg ( 308495 )

          Video performs staggeringly better than most other mediums in terms of ad revenue and various other bullshit metrics like 'engagement'.

          The vast majority of users seem to prefer video when it comes to consuming their content.

          It seems likely that there's a higher correlation between users who prefer video over (say) reading, and users who actually buy things off Internet advertising.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by mrbester ( 200927 )

        Sounds like you ascribed a lack of value to it based on the delivery medium and thus didn't even click the link. Congratulations, you just applied a dark pattern to yourself as described in TFS, which is exactly what those who would utilise them hope for; that you don't know it is happening and that you wouldn't care if you did.

        This isn't positivist enough for you, so you'll ignore this as well.

        • by Jiro ( 131519 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @02:24AM (#52604887)

          Sounds like you ascribed a lack of value to it based on the delivery medium and thus didn't even click the link. Congratulations, you just applied a dark pattern to yourself as described in TFS,

          This is nonsense.

          1) It isn't a dark pattern unless someone is trying to trick him into not viewing the article.

          2) The delivery medium actually makes the article lower in value. Taking 30 minutes to watch something that can be read in 2 minutes is a waste of time, and having to waste your time to get it reduces its value.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        It was a live presentation, and the video did a good job as far as videos go. Live presentations work well with humans. Harder for audience to pick and choose facts out of the presentation, like many readers HERE often do.

        Audience becomes invested in the presentation (time spent to date)
        The promised Q&A at the end encourages careful listening and then actual discourse on the issue.

        The purpose of the presentation and video? Get people talking. Unfortunately here on Slashdot we get more keyboard-twerking

    • by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Thursday July 28, 2016 @11:07PM (#52604425)

      Microsoft's design of the Windows 10 upgrade dialog box was a great example of how to trick users into accidentally upgrading, even when they didn't want to.

      Another one: charging a low price for a product on Amazon, then setting an exorbitant shipping and handling fee, which nearly doubles the price. I've seen this one fairly recently. The shipping fee is every bit as much of the price, but it's displayed only in tiny fonts compared to the main listing.

      Is it any wonder that UX designers are getting a horrible reputation among some segments of the tech-savvy crowd? It's going to suck if consumers get pissed off enough about this that government regulators have to step in, and then anyone putting up an e-commerce website is going to have to wade through layers upon layers of government bureaucracy. Maybe that's inevitable, but it's annoying how it always devolves into that...

      • by Anonymous Coward

        The good thing about the low price, high S&H trick is that many online marketplaces are catching on and sort by the total price now.

      • The reason UX designers are getting a horrible reputation is that most of them couldn't design an arse if you gave them two cheeks and a bunghole.

        This is more a management issue - not totally, because designers could refuse to do it and become unemployed designers.

      • Is it any wonder that UX designers are getting a horrible reputation among some segments of the tech-savvy crowd?

        The main reason for this is that people who self-describe as UX experts, as opposed to HCI experts, tend to be the ones that favour form over function and ignore the last 40 or so years of research into how to design useable interfaces. Most of them wouldn't know Fitts' Law if it dragged them to the corner of the screen and made them infinitely long.

      • by jafac ( 1449 )

        Another one: charging a low price for a product on Amazon, then setting an exorbitant shipping and handling fee, which nearly doubles the price.

        . . . .not to mention the "protection racket" that is Amazon Prime - to get people to PAY EXTRA, just so they don't have to worry about being scammed on shipping.

    • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Thursday July 28, 2016 @11:15PM (#52604455)

      2. Bad actors exist and the internet allows them to hide things so that users select things they normally would not.

      3. Bad actors are often inside of what most people consider "reputable" companies.

      4. Morality is hard and the bad actors in charge of stuff tend to push for lots number 2 (I had to skip "1" for the irony).

      You knew all this stuff already, or should have. We have a justice system which is supposed to handle companies breaching moral code, or what we call law. The problem is obviously how to make things visible to the user, which given the desires of HTML and JavaScript won't happen. setAttribute("type", "hidden"); has valid purposes as well as nefarious. Such is the nature of tools. I guess secondarily the punishment for bad actors may not fit the crime, but again we have a justice system for that.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        I guess secondarily the punishment for bad actors may not fit the crime, but again we have a justice system for that.

        I thought the justice system had abandoned pillory?

        Anyhow, I think it will be hard to win any cases. Courts have sided with advertisers before, ruling that misleading ads are expressions of free speech - as long as they're not outright lying, anything seems to go. Caveat emptor, at least here in the US.

      • by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @02:03AM (#52604839)

        4. Morality is hard ...

        Morality is easy, if you're not a selfish, self-centered dick. Think "golden rule" not "golden parachute".

        • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @10:39AM (#52606475)
          United Airlines flight 232 [wikipedia.org] crashed into an Iowa cornfield while attempting to land. A turbine in the #2 engine flew apart mid-flight due to a manufacturing defect, severing all the hydraulic lines. The crew controlled the plane with differential thrust from the two remaining engines, and frankly it was a miracle they even made it to the runway. Roughly a third of the people aboard were killed.

          One of those killed was a lap child - a child flying without a paid seat, and thus held on a parent's lap during the flight. This presented a problem during the emergency landing. Lead flight attenand Jan Lohr [wikipedia.org] followed FAA procedure and instructed the parents to put the child underneath the seat in front like a carry-on bag. After the accident, the mother (who survived) came up to Jan and, in tears, told her "I did what you told me to do, and I can't find my child."

          Jan was beset with guilt, and began a quarter-century crusade to outlaw the practice of lap children. That any child flying should be required to have their own seat with a crash safety seat like we use in cars. She even testified about her experience before Congress. It all came for naught when in 2012 the FAA issued its final decision that lap children would still be allowed. A victory for the selfish, self-centered stockholders and management behind the evil airlines, right?

          Not so fast. See, here's the thing. Flying is really, really safe. Due to the irrational nature of people's emotional mind, we fixate on large accidents while multiple small ones slip by unnoticed. So every time an airliner crashes, it makes national if not worldwide headlines. But if there's a car accident nearby, even your local news station is unlikely to cover it. Consequently we've spent decades concentrating on making flying disproportionately super-safe. The FAA crunched the numbers, and determined that if a family with a child decided to travel for vacation, the odds of the child dying in a plane accident - as a lap child - were lower than the odds of the child dying in a car accident while strapped into a car seat. So to encourage people to fly instead of drive with their child on vacation, they allow the family to fly without having to pay for an extra seat for the child.

          The lap child policy saves lives, despite its horrific outcome when the statistics don't work your way and there's a lap child aboard a plane which does crash. (As for forcing airlines to give children a free seat, that doesn't work either because they don't know until the time of the flight exactly how many people will be aboard. The way the industry operates is to slightly overbook because on average a certain percentage of people will miss their flights. When that gambit fails and more people show up for the flight than there are seats on the plane, someone has to be bumped off the flight. Forcing them to hold an unknown number of seats in reserve for "surprise" undeclared children would shift the number of passengers for a "booked" flight down, forcing them to raise the per-seat price, which again would encourage parents of young children to drive instead of fly.)

          Morality is hard.
          • by Anonymous Coward

            Working out your example isn't the difficult part there though. The difficult part is telling that to people whose opinions you care about and who are hell-bent that the opposite is true and will think you are a murderer.

        • People attempting to simplify everything as positive and negative are a huge part of the problem. The world is not, nor will it ever be, purely good or evil.

          Having high moral standards is not always easy. Your morality to you is easy, but your morality differs from the rest of society by at least a little, and probably much more than you think.

      • which given the desires of HTML and JavaScript won't happen.

        What the fuck does that mean and how does it differ from the "desires" of CSS?

    • Non sequiturs? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @12:26AM (#52604665)
      In addition to "patterns," both TFS and the people interviewed seem to have embraced the art of NON-patterned word salad... or maybe they just don't have a clue about what they are talking about.

      'There's this logical positivist mindset that the only things that have value are those things that can be measured and can empirically be shown to be true, and while that has its merits it also takes us down a pretty dark place,' said digital product designer Cennydd Bowles, who is researching ethical design. 'We start to look at ethics as pure utilitarianism, whatever benefits the most people. Yikes, it has problems.'

      What the heck is this supposed to have to do with anything?? First off, logical positivism [wikipedia.org] is an early to mid 20th-century philosophical movement that embraced the idea of verification as the basis of truth. There are all sorts of things we could say about this philosophical movement, but I have no clue what it could possibly have to do with "Dark Patterns" or immoral web design. There's no reason verificationism inevitably leads one to a "dark place," whatever that means.

      Yet we then jump to this idea of utilitarianism [wikipedia.org], yet another philosophical term that seems out of place. Yes, the stereotype of extreme utilitarians is that they will justify all sorts of weird ethically questionable behavior "for the sake of the greater good," like the doctor who would kill the live healthy dude who wanders into the hospital if he could save five other dying people with the organs. Most utilitarians aren't that crazy.

      But again, I'm not sure what this has to do with "dark patterns" or web design, because it's pretty clear that these things probably DON'T do "the greatest good for the most people" -- in fact, they are ways of stealing wealth from large amounts of stupid people (who probably don't have that much money to spare, on average) and concentrating it among a few people. That's actually pretty much the opposite of utilitarian reasoning.

      And I still have no clue what utilitarianism (an ethical philosophy) has to do with logical positivism (which has to do with epistemology, or the basis of knowledge). It would be quite possible to subscribe to one and not the other, or neither, or whatever -- they simply have little to do with each other. I'm not sure how empirical verification of stuff to determine truth inevitably leads to a MORAL argument around utilitarianism (which isn't usually something "verifiable" in the normal scientific sense)... and neither of these seem to have anything to do with "evil" web design.

      The only thing I can figure is that this person is some sort of anti-science religious nutjob who thinks that dependence on scientific reasoning leads to moral decay or something, and they're just using "utilitarian" as a code word for "bad moral system."

      This is one of the most muddled things I've seen in a Slashdot summary recently (and that's saying something)... and this person is supposedly "researching" ethical web design?? I think you might want to learn English first or some basic logic before you start throwing around irrelevant philosophical terms.

      • Re:Non sequiturs? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Pfhorrest ( 545131 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @11:05AM (#52606611) Homepage Journal

        The unnecessary use of at best slightly applicable philosophical terms made me do a double-take too, but after applying the principle of charity (another philosophical concept: try to interpret a text in such a way as it makes the most sense possible) I think that they were going for is "positivism" as in "verificationism" as in "only the things we can (easily) measure matter" as in "all we care about are the numbers (that we've chosen to care about, e.g. the number of people on our mailing list, and not any of that hard-to-quantify-but-maybe-more-important stuff)", and then "utilitarianism" as in "the ends justifies the means" as in "it doesn't matter what else (e.g. that hard-to-quantify stuff) we have to sacrifice, we'll do anything to get our special chosen numbers higher!"

    • Mod parent up. I clicked over, saw it was a video, and came here to see if anyone had the actual content if a format I could skim in 10 seconds. The only saving grace is it isn't autoplay (looking at you CNN).
    • The second link in the summary is a text article that gives pretty much the same information as the video. You have options.
    • Watch the video - the entire thing is worth it, not just the six examples. Well, it's about 2/3 worth it. It probably could have been cut down to 25 or even 20 minutes.

    • I might watch that video if it weren't trying to trick me into wasting 30 minutes to see the 6 examples that are the actual content.

      Exactly. I can read faster than I can watch. and if the author has spent time actually arranging information well, reading is very, very efficient.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 28, 2016 @10:41PM (#52604333)

    https://www.reddit.com/r/assholedesign

  • Really... "Dark Patterns"? There's no way that will catch on.

  • I've been noticing the progression. These days I'm thankful if there is an X somewhere so I can exit without clicking.
  • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Thursday July 28, 2016 @11:44PM (#52604557) Homepage

    It is much easier to fix than most people think. Basically you just have to allow end users to choose to make undesirable sites disappear. Basically the user should be allowed to ban those sites from say search results or advertising. A reasonable end user choice, had a bad experience with the company, don't want to deal with them any more, fine lock them out from accessing your digital mind space, no search results, no ads. Of course certain companies would have to agree or be forced to agree to end user choices, sort a digital right to your own eyeballs to not see what you do not want to see, a right corporations seem desperate to take away, as in force you to see what they want to see whether or not you want to see it. A new kind of privacy, the private right to keep you mind free of interactions with shitty companies. Individually it does not count for much but those companies do not screw over individually, they screw over everyone the meet and hence those blocks over time have real bite and kill companies over time. There should be a right to individually block content, to not be forced to see it prior to shutting it down, to enable you to choose to never see it again, that should be a real profound right of choice for all of us.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Basically you just have to allow end users to choose to make undesirable sites disappear.

      They can already do that - just close the browser
      The problem with your solution is that it will start a "bring your competition down" war, where companies will try to make their competitors sites disappear.
      As it stands, you can currently chose what sites deliver content to your pc, and sites are listed by a built reputation. I think what you really want is legal protection of your ability to block sites, because advertising companies want legal protection from users interfering with their ability to deliver

    • by Gob Gob ( 306857 )
      Sounds like an idea for a community based site voting system as a browser plugin.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      But Google likes this kind of behavior. It's kind of how Google got to where it is today. "Trust us, we do only good things". Then did a 180 and shoves shit down your throat while stealing all your data. Good job. But I support anything that does serious harm to Google and the people who work there.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      I was wondering if I could make an extension to warn users about this stuff. Adblock uses rules to hide unwanted content. Dark patterns use psychology to hide wanted content, like the opt-out tick box or "monthly subscription" text. Maybe some clever rules could be devised to highly important text.

      What we really need is a new law covering this. For example, web sites should have to ask permission to put stuff in your basket, so none of this "we just threw in a really expensive iPad cover for you, for your o

    • Basically you just have to allow end users to choose to make undesirable sites disappear.

      Which reminds me is "expert sex change" still around?

    • That's a neat idea! However, I'm a little dismayed that you think users need to be "allowed" to do this or that there "should be" a right to do it, instead of realizing that users don't need anybody's permission and that right already exists and always has existed.

      All we need is easy-to-use software to implement it. I think building that kind of functionality into things like Web of Trust [mywot.com] and YaCy [yacy.net] (if they don't implement it already) is a good place to start.

  • Dark Patterns? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mentil ( 1748130 ) on Friday July 29, 2016 @12:24AM (#52604657)

    The EFF blogged [eff.org]about deliberately misleading UI design over 6 years ago, going with the name 'Evil Interfaces.' My favorite alternate name was 'confuser interface design', by the way. 'Dark patterns' is so vague as to be useless.

    • Dark Patterns is catchy and can cover wide swaths of corporate malfeasance. It's a perfect description for the scorched Earth culture of screwing the customer at every opportunity in the most unaccountable way possible that permeates current megacorps.
  • Wow, it just goes to show you the strange things that happen to people when they are required to think of themselves in a good light. DESIGNERS, of all people, being friends of the users? Absurd!

    Designers are the ones who change interfaces for no reason, remove options, and generally screw up things that already work well. If Designers don't do this, they feel unsatisfied and unhappy. Users scream about it, but Designers handwave it away with pithy statements like "people are always going to complain,

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The EU law on digital marketing is clear: If I have not given explicit permission for a company to send me mail, they may not do so. At least here in Denmark there is a nice system for reporting spammers, and every now and then companies get big fines and bad publicity for spamming. And I really mean explicit permission, it has to be an active choice from my part. No pre-checked subscription boxes or automatic newsletters. Even if I do business with a company, they are only allowed to send mail directly rel

    • Similar laws here in Australia and if you are doing business with a Australian they apply to you regardless of where in the world the business is based.

  • Videos are the least efficient way of conveying information over the net. That's why video reviews and video guides are worthless waste of bandwith. Videos are good for one purpose: Entertainment.

    • I have found them useful when dissembling things on cars since some times there are the little weird motions needed to get something out that just don't come through clearly in other forms, but that is fairly rare.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday July 29, 2016 @04:27AM (#52605127)

    Every. Single. Time. you enable GPS on your phone in Marshmallow, Google services prompts you to permanently allow Google to collect location data from your phone - this only goes away if you accept, it never goes away if you deny.

    Apparently the only way to get rid of this without accepting, is to actually root your phone and use a custom xposed framework addon, explicitly for getting rid of that prompt.

    Perfect example of a 'Dark Pattern' in a user interface.

  • Working for unethical or immoral companies is protecting users? That's like saying a concentration camp guard leading people to the gas chambers can protect the victims.

    Your time would be better spent writing plugins to detect and flag shady practices. Quit now while you still have a soul.

  • I loved how he explained the seduction of good designers into doing evil work.

    I must say I found Ryanair to be particularly evil.

    In order to NOT buy insurance, you have to go to the drop down box labeled "Select your Country", and find "No Insurance Required", which is in the middle of the L's (not even in the "N" s).

    Frankly, they should be sued. That's nothing less than outright fraud in my book.

  • Load the site, get three seconds of viewing before some custom dialog in thrown in your face that blocks the contents wanting you to complete a survey or sign up for email spam. More often than not it seems like the method to close it is obfuscated or the exit button is tiny enough you have to squint to see it.

    I don't bother trying to play their game of trying to find the exit, when there are extensions like this [github.com] that always give you a consistent method for brushing that shit aside. These days, this and
  • I have a strict rule to never ever F ever sign up for any newsletters or mailing-lists, or anything like that

    So if i ever receive anything like that, that means its from ass-hats/creeps/criminals.

    I always report them as spammers/malware if available, and block permanently.

    I don't care if its from kittens4cancerchildren,
    sign me up for something i never asked for, and you are on my kill-list.

  • The Easy-Out is to go straight to your credit card company and assert that the charge was unauthorized. This puts the vendor using the dark pattern on the defensive. If your bank is a major bank and the vendor has too many unauthorized charge reports they could face loosing charge processing privileges that would impact their bottom line and motivate them to change their ways. Don't fall for the Difficult-Out trap, use the 900 pound gorilla in your corner. My credit card companies have always been very r

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