Dark Patterns are designed to trick you (and they’re all over the Web)
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.
Dark patterns aren’t limited to the Web, either. The Columbia House mail-order music club of the ’80s and ’90s famously charged users exorbitant rates for music they didn’t choose if they forgot to specify what they wanted. In fact, negative-option billing began as early as 1927, when a book club decided to bill members in advance and ship a book to anyone who didn’t specifically decline. Another common offline example? Some credit card statements boast a 0 percent balance transfer but don’t make it clear that the percentage will shoot up to a ridiculously high number unless a reader navigates a long agreement in tiny print.
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