Dark pattern: how site design manipulates us

Intrusive advertising, difficulty in clicking to assert your choice … You might think that these situations are the result of poor website design. Sometimes this is the case, but more often it is what is called “dark design”. Clearly, the interfaces are built in such a way that they guide or mislead the user.

In a very rich article published on The Conversation site, Daniel Fitton, a researcher at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, returned in detail to this now very common phenomenon. It explains in particular that to the extent that the free model is still widely present on the Internet, web designers are encouraged to resort to obscure patterns, these hard-to-detect practices aimed at manipulating users.

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The other cites many supporting examples, starting with cookie banners that supposedly give the option of accepting or not sharing our personal data. We can easily imagine that portals have an interest in our consent, so the “accept all” button is usually well highlighted.

Also, some e-commerce sites use this type of practice. When you see a product at an unbeatable price, it can dramatically increase by the time you make the final purchase. It is by no means an accident, but the site developer is betting that Internet users will not have the motivation to go to another portal.

The most iconic case of the dark pattern is provided by mobile gaming apps, often for free. Daniel Fitton, who has studied this topic closely, explains:

In recent research looking at free app-based games that are popular with teens today, my colleague and I identified dozens of examples of this type of design. Users are forced to watch advertisements and often come across advertisements in disguise that appear to be part of the game. They are encouraged to share posts on social media, and when their friends join the game, they are invited to make in-game purchases. to differentiate their character from that of their peers.

In the face of these tricks, there are already measures such as age classification to protect minors, codes of good conduct, or even certain national laws, but we can see that this is not enough. Therefore, the researcher believes that a critical understanding of how dark patterns work and how they are manipulated could help us overcome these strategies.

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