Dark Patterns: An Inescapable Internet Phenomenon
Illustration by Freya Sidhwa
Have you tried to delete an account you don’t use anymore? If you have, you probably failed and gave up midway because you simply can’t find that simple uncheck option. These are dark patterns, and they make the user experience (also called UX) absolutely miserable.
Harry Brignull, a London based UX specialist, who has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Science first coined the term ‘dark patterns’ in 2010. He defined them as
User interfaces that have been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.
According to Brignull, the main reason for the success of Dark Patterns is that
When you use the web, you don’t read every word on every page — you skim read and make assumptions. If a company wants to trick you into doing something, they can take advantage of it by making a page look like it is saying one thing when in fact it is saying another. You can defend yourself against dark patterns on this site.
Since dark patterns are features of interface design crafted to trick users into doing things they might not want to do, but which benefit the business in question, it is very easy to fall prey to them. They are designed by taking human psychology into account. They are extremely disheartening and upsetting to see as the purpose of UX/ UI is not only to make the interface aesthetically pleasing but also, to make the experience of the user smooth, comprehensive, and helpful. At their worst, Dark Patterns can encroach upon your privacy and deceive you into making unwanted payments. One such case of dark patterns was so bad that LinkedIn was ordered to pay $13 Million in a class-action lawsuit settlement.
If you are an android-nerd, you probably have at least once tried to download shady APK files from unknown sources, may the file be a modded version of Subway Surfers or free Spotify. If you have, you would know that there are about a 1000 download buttons on these pages, and the chances of you clicking on the one that opens a scamming service are astronomically high. This is the perfect example of a dark pattern. It doesn't come as a surprise that large companies would go to such extents to reap off even small economic benefits. Sadly, Dark Patterns have evolved so rapidly, that now, it is difficult for even an aware user to point them out.
As Campbell-Dollaghan from Fast Comany(2017) stated;
We are entering a new era where we shouldn’t be using dark patterns as weapons to influence our world.
Even though throughout the web, many big companies are found to be using Dark Patterns in unethical ways which include Coursera, Microsoft, and Dafont, it is important to not feel helpless against these dark patterns present all across your favorite websites. The best thing you can do is be aware and call out these shameless corporations on the website DarkPatterns.