More than 1 in 10 top websites incorporate devious user interfaces to manipulate people into doing things against their intentions.
The scale and extent of this abuse has been forcefully revealed. Seven university computer scientists (6 from Princeton / 1 from Chicago) have meticulously analysed over 11,000 top websites ranked by Amazon’s Alexa service.
They further uncovered 22 third party sites that offer ‘dark patterns as a service’. Some of these also advertise deceptive marketing techniques through fake orders, and related social media messages that praise the fake orders.
The researchers identified 15 different types of sneaky behaviour which they classified into 7 categories:
Adding additional products into baskets without consent Revealing undisclosed charges right before the purchase Charging recurring fees for a one-time or free trial
Indicating that a deal or discount will expire using a countdown timer or message indicating a deadline
Using language, emotion, visual interference, trick questions and preselection to steer users away from making other choices – usually cheaper and more appropriate
Informing users about related heavy activity and demand on the website and posting ‘false’/ unclear testimonials
Indicating that a product is likely to become unavailable soon due to low stock having / high demand
Making it easy for users to sign up for a service, but hard to cancel
Coercing a user to do something not directly related to complete their task, e.g. create an account or share their information
These manipulations are problematic because they’re ‘intended to prey on our cognitive limitations and weaknesses’ says Prof. Narayanan – one of the researchers. Some of this behaviour also violates various laws in the EU, USA and elsewhere.
If you are interested in reading the whole paper you can find it here.
The Romans’ term for it was “Caveat emptor” – buyer beware!