Dark Patterns: the risks of Manipulation on the Internet

In the digital age, where technology and the internet have become an integral part of our lives, we often encounter...
27 July 2023

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Dark Patterns: the risks of Manipulation on the Internet

In the digital age, where technology and the internet have become an integral part of our lives, we often encounter various design techniques that aim to influence our behavior online. 

These techniques, known as dark patterns, have raised concerns about the ethical implications of online manipulation. 

In this article, we will explore dark patterns, their examples, and the risks they pose in shaping our online experiences.

What are dark patterns?

Dark patterns refer to user interface design choices that intentionally manipulate and deceive users, leading them to take actions they would not have otherwise taken

These design techniques exploit cognitive biases and psychological vulnerabilities to steer users towards certain actions, often to the benefit of the company implementing them.

The work of Harry Brignull

Harry Brignull, a user experience designer, coined the term “dark patterns” and has been instrumental in raising awareness about this pervasive issue. 

Brignull’s research and advocacy have shed light on the unethical practices employed by some businesses to trick users and maximize their profits.

Internet Manipulation and Dark Patterns

The internet has provided a vast playground for companies to employ dark patterns, ultimately influencing user behavior and driving desired outcomes. 

By leveraging techniques such as misdirection, hidden costs, and manipulative defaults, businesses can exploit users’ vulnerabilities and nudge them towards actions that benefit the company’s bottom line.

Dark patterns: the risks of manipulation on the Internet

Dark Patterns examples

Let’s explore some real-life examples of dark patterns. There are hundreds and hundreds. Here we provide just a few to give you an idea.

Hidden Opt-Outs

Some websites or applications make it difficult to find the option to opt out of data sharing, subscriptions, or marketing communications. Users may unknowingly consent to these practices, resulting in unwanted messages or privacy concerns.

Bait and Switch

Bait and switch involves enticing users with a promising offer or service, only to present them with a less desirable alternative. Companies may use misleading advertising or pricing strategies to lure users into engaging with their products or services.


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Misleading Disclaimers

Misleading disclaimers are often used to downplay a product or service’s risks or negative consequences. Users may be misled into believing the potential harm is minimal or non-existent, leading to uninformed decisions.

Manipulative Defaults

Manipulative defaults involve pre-selecting options or settings that benefit the company but may not align with the user’s best interests. Users may inadvertently accept these defaults without realizing the potential consequences.

Obfuscated Interfaces

Obfuscated interfaces intentionally make finding desired features, settings, or information challenging for users. The design choices can confuse users and push them towards unintended actions or outcomes.

Unwanted Subscriptions

Some platforms or services make canceling or unsubscribing from subscriptions excessively difficult. Users may be trapped in ongoing payments without a clear or straightforward cancellation process.

Fake Discounts

Fake discounts mislead users by presenting original inflated prices or artificially limited-time offers. Users may perceive the discounted price as a significant saving, even if the original price was never genuinely offered.

False Scarcity

False scarcity creates a sense of urgency by falsely suggesting limited product or service availability. Users may rush into purchasing, fearing they will miss out on the opportunity, even if the scarcity is manufactured.

Uncover the dangers of dark patterns on the Internet.

What are the Risks of the Internet Manipulation?

At this point, you may assume that the risks associated with this type of manipulation are significant and can have serious consequences for your assets or personal well-being. The following examples of risks you may be exposed to provide a clear picture of the potential dangers:

Misdirection

Misdirection involves redirecting the user’s attention away from important information or options by using visual cues, color schemes, or misleading wording. 

This tactic can trick users into making unintended choices or unknowingly consenting to undesirable actions.

Forced Continuity

Forced continuity is a technique where users unknowingly enroll in a subscription or recurring payment plan.

It often involves obscuring or downplaying the subscription terms, making it difficult for users to cancel or opt-out.

Hidden costs

Hidden costs refer to intentionally concealing additional fees, charges, or conditions during checkout. Users may only discover these costs after they have committed to a purchase, leading to frustration and a sense of being deceived.

Sneak into basket

Sneak into basket occurs when items or services are automatically added to a user’s shopping cart without their explicit consent. Users may be surprised to find additional items when reviewing their cart, often resulting in unintended purchases.

Urgency

Urgency exploits the fear of missing out by creating a false sense of time pressure. Scarcity tactics, such as countdown timers or limited stock notifications, manipulate users into making hasty decisions without thoroughly considering the consequences.

Social Proof

Social proof involves presenting users with fabricated or misleading information to persuade them to take a desired action. This can include fake testimonials, inflated user reviews, or artificial popularity indicators.

Friend spam

Friend spam occurs when an application or platform gains access to a user’s contact list and sends unsolicited invitations or messages to their connections. This tactic leverages users’ trust in their friends’ recommendations to expand the platform’s user base.

Privacy zuckering

Privacy Zuckering involves misleading users into sharing more personal information than they intended or fully understood. The design choices can make it challenging for users to navigate privacy settings or opt-out of data collection practices.

Roach motel

Roach motel refers to users’ difficulty when attempting to cancel or unsubscribe from a service. Companies intentionally create convoluted or misleading processes to discourage users from leaving or canceling their subscriptions.

Trick questions

Trick questions are designed to manipulate users into choosing options that benefit the company, often leading to unintended consequences or undesirable outcomes. The questions may be misleading or use complex language to confuse users.

What are the Risks of the Internet Manipulation?

Disguised ads

Disguised ads are advertisements or sponsored content presented in a way that makes them appear as regular content. Users may inadvertently click on these ads, thinking they are accessing genuine information or features.

Although dark patterns are not necessarily illegal practices, they can severely damage the reputation of your digital project. Respecting the digital privacy, and security in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) are crucial factors to reinforce trust in your services.

To assist you, at Smowltech, we have developed a range of proctoring products that allow you to conduct remote monitoring with all the necessary guarantees. 

Request a free demo, and we can share effective, innovative, and secure solutions for your online projects.


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