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If you’ve ever accidentally subscribed to an email list, installed some software you didn’t want, or been tricked into needlessly sharing personal data, you’ve already experienced a dark pattern, or a maliciously-designed user interface.Why “dark patterns?” Types of dark patterns
The “official” site (maintained by Brignull) lists twelve different dark pattern types. Here are some of the more common ones.Bait and Switch Hidden Costs
This is what happens when you’re not shown the full cost of a product until you’ve put in enough work that paying a “convenience fee” or an extra shipping charge at the end seems easier than starting over.Confirmshaming
This happens when a company tries to “shame” you into something. For example, unsubscribing from an email list might take to you to a page that says, “Aw, don’t you like us?” Another version might be an ad for a workout program that offers you the option to either “Enroll” or “Stay out of shape.” There’s a whole blog dedicated to these.Disguised Ads Forced Continuity
Free trials might get some people to sign up for the quality of the product, but more often, once they get your credit card, they just hope you’ll forget about cancelling.Roach Motel
This situation is easy to get into but hard to get out of. You can sign up for our service online, but you’ll have to hand-deliver your notarized cancellation letter to our headquarters in Nebraska. (Hotel California, anyone? — You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!)Friend spam
Hey, you just joined our site! How about you give us access to your email contacts so you can see if you have any friends here, and maybe we’ll email them with other stuff, too. LinkedIn is the most well-known real-world example of this, but the thirteen million dollar lawsuit that resulted may have cut into their profits a bit.Misdirection
This almost isn’t even its own dark pattern, since it’s part of so many others. It plays on your expectations about the way things should work, like using a red button to continue and a green button to take you back, or using another dark pattern, like “Trick Questions.” “Do you want to not opt out of our email program?”Privacy Zuckering How can I avoid them?
Currently, the human brain contains the only software that can reliably detect and block dark patterns, and the best way to use it is to look at plenty of examples so you know what to watch for. The “#darkpatterns” hashtag on Twitter is the most popular way to report them, but if you’re more of a Reddit person, there is a subreddit that showcases dark patterns and other design sins. New varieties are always emerging, but being familiar with the basics will help you understand how they work and how to avoid them.The dark side has cookies
Dark patterns are nothing new. Mail-in rebates, deceptive font sizes on posters, poorly-labeled prices on store shelves, add-ons when you’re buying a new car – the art of trying to trick users into making poor choices has a pretty impressive history. With tracking tools like browser fingerprints, cookies, big data analysis, and live a/b testing, it has only gotten easier for designers to figure out how to target consumers effectively. Truly deceptive practices can actually be against the law (companies do get sued), but if you don’t want to not opt out of whatever dark patterns are trying to make you reverse undo, you can do your part in improving user interfaces by a) not falling for dark patterns, and b) sharing them with the world.
Image Credit: Dan Schlosser via Medium, Paul Hanaoka via Twitter
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