Exposed at [ http://darkpatterns.org/ ]: the deceptive tricks websites use to get us to agree to non-obvious mailing lists, subscriptions or offers.
"It happens to the best of us. After looking closely at a bank statement or cable bill, suddenly a small, unrecognizable charge appears. Fine print sleuthing soon provides the answer—somehow, you accidentally signed up for a service. Whether it was an unnoticed pre-marked checkbox or an offhanded verbal agreement at the end of a long phone call, now a charge arrives each month because naturally the promotion has ended. If the possibility of a refund exists, it’ll be found at the end of 45 minutes of holding music or a week’s worth of angry e-mails.
Everyone has been there. So in 2010, London-based UX designer Harry Brignull decided he’d document it. Brignull’s website, darkpatterns.org
, offers plenty of examples of deliberately confusing or deceptive user interfaces. These dark patterns trick unsuspecting users into a gamut of actions: setting up recurring payments, purchasing items surreptitiously added to a shopping cart, or spamming all contacts through prechecked forms on Facebook games.
With six years of data, Brignull has broken dark patterns down into 14 categories. There are hidden costs users don’t see until the end. There’s misdirection, where sites attract user attention to a specific section to distract them from another. Other categories include sites that prevent price comparison or have tricky or misleading opt-in questions. One type, Privacy Zuckering, refers to confusing interfaces tricking users into sharing more information than they want to. (It’s named after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, of course.) Though perhaps the worst class of dark pattern is forced continuity, the common practice of collecting credit card details for a free trial and then automatically billing users for a paid service without an adequate reminder.
Klein 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.”"