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Dark Patterns: How Websites Are Trying to Manipulate You

The Internet has become many things over the years. From a simple information sharing highway, it has become a world unto its own. From private digital domains to having its own seedy underbelly, the Internet even has its own thriving commercial sector. Websites act as storefronts to real-world businesses, and now there are even stores that are entirely digital.

But like all marketplaces, the Internet’s commercial facet has its ups and downs. For every legitimate business, there are dozens that are simply looking to defraud or trick the unsuspecting. But even legitimate business can employ underhanded techniques to weasel as much information or money from users. These are called dark patterns. Today, you should learn how to recognize them and realize when a website is trying to manipulate you.

What Are Dark Patterns?

Dark patterns refer to certain types of online marketing and design strategies that are clearly deceptive upon closer inspection. Unlike legitimate marketing techniques, such as email marketing or hiring a studio for e-commerce product image editing, dark patterns try to trick people into giving away more than they’re actually willing to part with without knowing it.

These techniques range from being as blatant as sending false messages to trigger impulsive behavior to as subtle as counting on people being too impatient to read to the end of a sentence. Through these deceptive techniques, unscrupulous websites can sucker people into accepting unwanted notifications, rushing to buy products that aren’t actually in high demand, or even parting with their sensitive information just to complete an action.

Because these types of manipulative strategies aren’t yet covered by current laws, sites have free reign for now to use any of them to try to wrangle online users. The practice has become so prevalent so fast that there is an entire website dedicated to identifying and cataloguing these methods.

Types of Dark Patterns

Couple looking at latop

There are a dozen types of dark patterns, but the ones listed below are among the most prevalent.

Urgency is when a site pretends that there is some sort of deadline for users to make their decisions, mostly purchases. They achieve this either by putting up a bogus timer on your screen or sending a message that proclaims that there’s limited time.

Confirmshaming refers to subtly shaming users for avoiding certain actions by using negative language. For example, a pop-up message could tell you that you’re leaving the site. The options could be worded as “Yes, I would like to stay” and “No, I don’t want to learn more.” Although both are true, the latter implies something negative about the user that they’d want to avoid and thus could trick them into staying.

Obstruction is when the site actively makes it difficult for you to leave or stop an action. They could refrain from canceling your membership until you speak directly to a representative.

Scarcity is when sites pretend that their products are in high demand, pressuring you into buying them before they hypothetically run out. Or they could outright lie and tell you that the item is low in stock.

All dark patterns are inherently deceptive and should never be considered by forthright businesses. Do your research and see which sites are trying to manipulate you into parting with information or money and give them a piece of your mind.

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