You may have heard the term “dark patterns” in reference to the internet before, but you may not be entirely sure what it means. Even if you haven’t, you’ve almost certainly come across an example of it online.
Dark patterns are designed to exploit cognitive biases and psychological vulnerabilities of users. As a result, users may end up spending more money, subscribing to services they don’t want, or sharing their personal data with companies they didn’t intend to.
Below, we take a closer look at dark patterns and why consumers need to be aware of them. We’ll also provide some examples of dark tactics that you’re likely to see online and how a consumer protection attorney can help if you believe you’ve been victimized by one of these schemes.
What Are Dark Patterns?
Dark patterns are a type of design used by developers and designers to manipulate users into taking the desired action, like giving away personal information or making a purchase.
These actions are typically ones that benefit the company or individual using the dark pattern, rather than the user. Dark patterns often make use of psychological tricks and tactics to get users to do what they want, without them realizing what is happening.
Why Consumers Need to Be Aware
Most dark patterns are designed to be subtle and hard to spot. They often rely on psychological tricks to manipulate consumers into taking actions they wouldn’t otherwise take. But when consumers are aware, companies have a more difficult time using these strategies successfully.
Dark Patterns Are Widespread
These tactics are used by all sorts of companies in just about every industry. They’re especially common for online businesses, where it’s easy for companies to track and analyze user behavior data. But dark patterns can also be found offline, in brick-and-mortar stores or direct mail advertising.
Consumers Can’t Make Informed Choices
Because dark patterns are specifically designed to manipulate people, they often prevent them from making informed choices about their purchases. They might buy something they don’t need or sign up for a service they don’t want because they’ve been tricked into doing so by a dark pattern. In some cases, these choices can have real consequences for someone’s finances, privacy, and safety.
Examples of Dark Patterns
There are many different kinds of dark patterns currently in use and new ones are being implemented every day. Understanding what these can look like and how to spot them is crucial to being able to make informed decisions when making online purchases. Here are some examples of dark patterns commonly used today:
Creating a False Sense of Urgency
Retailers often use scarcity marketing to drive traffic and sales, but when this sense of urgency is manufactured, it becomes a dark tactic. If you’ve ever looked at hotel or vacation reservations online, you might have seen a notification that several other people are also looking at the same property for the same dates as you are. This is intended to create a false sense of urgency and encourage consumers to book before anyone else does.
Another example of this is when retailers say that an item is about to go out of stock when there are plenty of supplies to meet the demand. Stores may hide extra stock in the back to make shelves look nearly empty. This encourages consumers to purchase before they “miss out” on the deal.
Hiding the Terms of Sale In the Fine Print
Another example of a dark pattern is when retailers hide the terms of sale deep in the fine print where no one is likely to look. This makes it difficult for consumers to understand what they are agreeing to and can lead to them being charged hidden fees or enrolled in unwanted subscriptions.
“Free Trials” That Aren’t Really Free
Some companies may employ dark tactics by offering “free trials” that aren’t really free. For example, a company may require consumers to provide their credit card information upfront for the trial and then automatically enroll them in a paid subscription after the trial period ends.
Disguising or Concealing Privacy Settings
Companies may also disguise or conceal privacy settings to collect user data. Sellers may make it difficult for users to find and understand how to change their privacy settings, or the options that share personal data already come preselected and are hard to turn off.
How a Consumer Protection Attorney Can Help
If you think you’ve been victimized by a dark pattern and have incurred significant financial or other losses as a result, a consumer protection attorney can help. A lawyer can determine whether your case is likely to be successful and can help you understand your rights and what options are available to you under the law.
They can take legal action on your behalf to help ensure that the company responsible is held accountable. Contact New Hampshire and Massachusetts consumer protection attorneys Mazow | McCullough, PC today for more information or to book a consultation.