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Dark Patterns: Protecting Online Users from Deceptive Practices

Online platforms have become an integral part of our daily lives, offering a wide range of services and choices. However, there is a growing concern about the misuse of certain practices known as "dark patterns." These practices are designed to manipulate users, hindering their ability to make autonomous and informed decisions.

What are Dark Patterns? Dark patterns are manipulative techniques employed by online platforms that intentionally distort users' choices and decisions. The goal is to push users into engaging in behaviours they might not desire, for example:

  • Misdirection: This involves using design elements, such as misleading buttons or visual cues, to direct users into taking unintended actions. For instance, a website may use a large, enticing "Download" button that actually leads to signing up for a paid service instead of the intended download.

  • Hidden Costs: Online platforms may hide or obscure additional costs, fees, or subscription charges during the checkout process. Users might unintentionally sign up for costly services they didn't anticipate.

  • Forced Continuity: When cancelling a subscription or service, some platforms make the process deliberately complicated, requiring users to go through multiple steps or contact customer support to discourage them from cancelling.

  • Roach Motel: In this pattern, it's easy for users to sign up for a service, but incredibly difficult to cancel or delete their account. The user gets "trapped" and finds it almost impossible to leave.

  • Sneak into Basket: Websites might add extra items to the user's shopping cart without their consent, often related to add-ons or services, during the checkout process.

  • Privacy Zuckering: Named after Mark Zuckerberg, this involves manipulating users into sharing more personal information than they intended to. For example, a platform may encourage users to import their entire contact list under the guise of finding friends, but then use that data for other purposes.

  • Disguised Ads: Some platforms may present ads in a way that makes them look like native content or essential elements of the website, leading users to click on them unintentionally.

  • Friend Spam: Online platforms might trick users into granting access to their contact lists or social media accounts and then send spammy messages or invites to all their contacts without explicit permission.

  • Confirmshaming: Using manipulative language or guilt-tripping to dissuade users from opting out of newsletters or services. For instance, using buttons like "No, I don't want to save money" instead of a simple "No, thanks."

  • Inertia Selling: Automatically opting users into services or subscriptions without their explicit consent, relying on the hope that users won't notice or won't bother to cancel.

The above are just a few examples, and there can be many variations of dark patterns across different online platforms. Recognising these tactics is crucial for users to make informed decisions and maintain their autonomy online.

To ensure a fair and transparent online environment, it is crucial to prohibit online platforms from using deceptive tactics or nudges that impair users' autonomy, decision-making, and choices. The structure, design, and functionalities of online interfaces should not be used to benefit the platform provider at the expense of the users. However, it's also important to strike a balance between preventing dark patterns and allowing platforms to interact with users and offer new services. Legitimate practices, like advertising, that comply with the law, should not be considered dark patterns.

In conclusion, addressing dark patterns is essential for safeguarding the autonomy and decision-making ability of users on online platforms. By recognising and preventing these manipulative practices, we can foster a more trustworthy and user-friendly digital environment for all.

Dark Patterns

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