Fifty Shades Darker: More Dark Patterns Manipulating Your Behaviour!



Last week I released an article discussing three sets of dark patterns: fake scarcity, time pressure and hidden costs. Today, we dive into deeper into the other tricks people can use to make you buy more, buy quicker, or simply sign your contacts and data away, when that was never what you intended to do! These “tricks” are known as dark patterns. They’re used to trick people into doing things - things they wouldn’t do if they understood the true outcome. They’re carefully designed to manipulate people by taking advantage of quirks of the human mind. In this article, we will be discussing a few of these dark patterns, why they work and how you can protect yourself from them.

Information Stalker In the day and age of online consumption, nothing is worth more than your information. Age, gender, and location is child’s play by now. They want to know your favourite colour, which ads you click and which you don’t, how long you look at certain ads, which type of page design you seem to prefer. Everything that could be possible known about you has value. And money can be made selling it to the highest bidder. Facebook has had several issues with selling its users information, there is no surprise then that one of the dark patterns is called Privacy Zuckering, in which you are tricked into sharing more information than you want. This information is not necessary to use the service provided. Forced enrolment is another scheme in which more information is taken from you, regardless of the need for it to use the service. You are enrolling into having an account for a service, which is linked to other companies to obtain your information. Not that you want any of their services, but they now have your info. Another example of this trick is called Checkbox Treachery. It has been made illegal in quite a few countries to pre-select customers preferences, but there are still many ways to trick you. One of the main ways of doing so is manipulating the language used, making you opt-in to release your information, whereas you thought you’d be opting in to something very different. If it’s specifically the use of language being used to trick you, this dark pattern is also referred to as Misinformation or Trick Questions. This later pattern is also a good introduction to our next dark pattern collection, where we are going to focus on visuals. Key terms that work with dark patterns trying to get at your information are Privacy Zuckering, Forced Enrolment, Misinformation and Trick Questions or Checkbox Treachery.


Now you see me. Now you don’t! The online experience is largely visual. As such, so are its tricks. Remember those checkboxes mentioned earlier? Well, they aren’t allowed to be pre-checked anymore. However, they can be incredibly hidden or designed in such a way that the opting-out box is very light, difficult to see or just plain hidden, whereas the opting-in box is very prominent and very appealingly designed. This is a form of Misdirection but is more often referred to as Visual Interference.

Another visual trick is the ratings very often provided. People respond very positive to seeing that a product has many good ratings. Both are important: a product needs to have many ratings (increasing its reliability) and needs to have positive ratings. Even more value is placed Several company employees have admitted to being paid to rate products and services highly and write these positive reviews. Meaning that the peer-review-process on which many services rely, are effectively rendered useless. When it comes to dealing with these dark patterns, and the previous category, you really need to make sure your eyesight is 20/20. It’s time to put on some glasses and work it out. These dark patterns benefit greatly from inattention and haste. So make sure you take your time and carefully read through all the text and checkboxes you are being presented with. It’s going to be much easier to opt-out before having purchased something, than it is going to be to opt-out when already a customer! Key terms that work with this dark pattern are Misdirection, Trick Questions (Checkbox Treachery), Fake Testimonials and Visual Interference.


Hook, Line, Sinker! The dark patterns we mentioned before seem annoying, but they need not cost you additional money nor harm (they can, but often mainly focus on information collection). However, there are dark patterns that are designed for the sheer sake of making you spend more immediately. One of these tactics is Bait and Switch, often referred to as upselling. You get lured in with low prices (also often seen with free trials and subscriptions for the “hidden cost” section of last article), but these prices turn out to be for products that are no longer available. What happens now is that you are being marketed similar, but definitely more expensive products. They know you want it, question is: what is your maximum price? They will keep pushing until you break! Pressure selling is a very similar tactic. If you type in a product type into a search engine, it will try to order “sponsored” and very often more expensive products for you to see first. Or, the wholesaler site will pre-select more expensive versions of a product for you to buy, whereas there are cheaper versions available if you opt-out of this default. Making you spend more can also happen through luring you in for one product, and then making sure you buy 3. How?! Well, the one product you are looking for might only come in a bundle, but not on its own. Companies do this if they have a product that sells really well, and combine it with products that don’t, or if they got stuck with stock that won’t sell or got over-ordered. Whichever way the wind blows, it’s going to cost YOU!

Bundling requires a lot of research, because it requires you to find out if there is a way out of the bundle, often having to opt for a different seller, or maybe even a different selling platform! If you want to watch out for a version of bundling which is even more insane, check out Sneaking, or sneaking-into-the-basket. It’s not as rigid as bundling, because you can opt-out, but it’s much more insidious. Sneaking is often confused with companies giving out free tester products with a larger purchase. This is exposure marketing. But what is happening with Sneaking is that these additional products DO cost money. You should be able to opt-out of them, unlike with bundling, but you can only opt-out if you catch on to them first! Key terms that work with this dark pattern are Bait and Switch (Upselling), Pressure Selling, Bundling and Sneaking.


Most of these dark patterns are most definitely deliberate, based on misdirection and misinformation and are, of course, for the benefit of the person/company tricking you. So consumer be wary!


I hope you found this article, and the previous one, useful. Let me know if there are any dark patterns you have seen, or feel that I have missed on the socials!

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