What are dark patterns and why should you care?

What are dark patterns and why should you care?

Published: Aug 26, 2021

In a landmark decision, California has passed a law regulating “dark patterns” that trick users into agreeing to have their information sold. Read on to learn more about dark patterns and how to avoid them.

What are dark patterns?

Dark patterns are user interfaces, or UI, designed to trick or frustrate you into making choices you normally would not—you’ve probably seen them on shadier websites.

They may cause you to accidentally opt into giving away your personal data, spend more money on an e-commerce site than expected, download software without your knowledge, stay on a premium subscription you wanted to quit, and more.

Think bright, eye-catching buttons that prompt you to click and share your personal information, paired with an easy-to-miss, text-only opt-out option in light grey that blends into the background.

Another common trick is using unclear phrasing such as double negatives to confuse you, so you opt into giving away your rights. You may also have encountered account cancellation processes that are long and frustrating, in the hopes that you’ll give up before completing.

California’s new regulation bans these deceptive practices to better protect consumers and their private data.

How to avoid falling for dark patterns

Dark patterns are usually devised by UX (User Experience) experts who know how users interact with sites. Often, their designs are extensively tested to get the desired response, so it might be difficult to escape dark patterns altogether.

Short of government regulation, here’s how you can avoid such UI traps:

  • Know thy enemy: darkpatterns.org, run by the UX specialist who coined the very term, aims to educate web users on different dark patterns and shame brands that use those unethical methods. Check out his site to learn about the types of dark patterns so you can better spot and avoid them.

  • Break from autopilot: We’re all used to clicking on bright buttons instinctively, or ignoring long terms and conditions and skipping straight to “Accept”. When you’re starting a new service or visiting a less-than-reputable site, break out of autopilot mode and read all button texts and questions properly before accepting anything. If in doubt, do a web search to see if the service is legitimate.

  • Call companies out on their unethical practices: This move may or may not be your cup of tea, but one way to make companies sit up and listen is to put them on blast on social media. Even if companies don’t see your post, sharing dark patterns is still a good way to spread awareness and help your friends avoid such traps.

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