Dark Patterns: A Modern Mouse Trap

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

"When you use websites and apps, you don’t read every word on every page - you skim read and make assumptions." (Brignull, 2018)


Have you ever found it challenging to find the refund page when you want to return a product you bought online? Have you ever experienced a time when a service presents you with a free three-month trial subscription plan, only to mention “9.99$/month afterward” really small in the corner? These market phenomena are known as the Dark Pattern. They are often seen in social media platforms and e-commerce, where the companies lurk to captivate the consumers and encourage their spending. The dangers of the Dark Pattern are that they are often undetectable and subliminally stimulate consumers.


Types of Dark Patterns


Sneak Into Basket:


You attempt to acquire an item, but along the process, the site sneaks another merchandise or service into your basket, often through the utilization of minuscule opt-out buttons or checkboxes placed in misleading areas. This marketing pattern is called Sneak Into Basket and is commonly seen in online stores to charge complementary or inessential goods that are not initially mentioned.


Figure 1: Sneak Into Basket on e-commerce

(via https://www.shopify.ca/partners/blog/dark-patterns)


In this example, we can discern how another product (highlighted in red) has been subtly added to the cart. In most cases, these products are kept at a low price, so the buyer does not remove them.


Hidden costs:

The hidden costs pattern is a marketing scheme similar to the sneak into basket pattern in the sense that it adds additional costs in places where the consumer fails to recognize. The most frequently seen examples would be stores involving taxes not included on their products or services. Although we cannot simply designate this to be a fraud or deceitful act, the stores omitting tax expenses hide costs that resemble this scheme.


Figure 2: Hidden Costs and its components

(via https://www.shopify.ca/partners/blog/dark-patterns)


In this example, the price of the flower before the checkout is $54.99, while the final cost is $83.94. When taking a closer look, we can recognize how the product involves sub costs, shipping fees, and tax expenses that appear moments before purchase, stimulating the buyers to buy the product regardless of its costs. This tactic is also known as the “slow price reveal” and is commonly seen on


Confirm Shaming and Forced Continuity:


The pattern of Confirm Shaming and Forced Continuity are heavily dependent on each other. Confirm Shaming is the first process that prompts the consumers to feel guilt for opting out of certain services. Perhaps the most established and modern precedent is seen within Amazon’s e-commerce service. When a consumer purchases a product from Amazon, they must opt-out of Amazon’s service—Amazon Prime— and click, “No thanks, I don’t want Unlimited One-Day Delivery.” This button not only engenders a sense of loss within the consumer but also encourages them to sign up for Amazon’s service.


Forced Continuity is what comes after the consumers have decided to subscribe to a service of a company. It is the circumstance where the commonly seen “free trial period” of a subscription ends and automatically leads the consumers into a paid subscription plan without notice. In many cases, users are not provided with an easy way to cancel their subscription, which further contributes to the damage of this occurrence.


 

Take a close look at this image…

Focus on the color dynamic as well

Figure 3: Apple's dark pattern

(via https://www.apple.com/app-store/ )


Although these patterns are only some of the myriad of different selling and advertising strategies, they manifest how companies are determined to sell their products in ways that are, at times, immoral. To avoid these regimes, we must persistently keep track of our finances and check if the products we buy or the services we sign up for our legitimate and fair. Now, I’m not saying that all subscriptions and price displays are ill-intent. However, I strongly believe that companies are equipped with the capabilities to exploit the consumers and always hold the upper hand in terms of market exchange. Hence, rather than trying to compete head-on with the producers within a market, we as consumers must always seek to distinguish the objectives of the producers and acknowledge the fact that we are surrounded and constantly influenced by their plans. In a society where information is critical, ignorance is not bliss but sin.


Bibliography:

Brignull, Harry. Dark Patterns, 2018, www.darkpatterns.org/.



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