You may not recognize the term dark patterns, but you’ve probably seen enough manipulative interfaces to get the idea. A user experience in a site, app, or gadget is constructed to herd customers into following a company’s dictates, even if those will cost people their money or data. Now one of Washington’s consumer regulators is asking how the public sector could address this private-sector plague.
At the Federal Trade Commission’s “Bringing Dark Patterns to Light” online workshop April 29, speakers uniformly denounced these deceptive interfaces in apps, services, and sites. “We increasingly see companies using dark patterns to manipulate consumers into giving up their data,” acting FTC Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said as she opened the online event.
Companies that use dark patterns carefully may get away with manipulating consumers’ behavior without pushing the envelope far enough to anger them. Lior Strahilevitz, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, shared research into how subjects responded to moderate and aggressive dark patterns in dialogs urging them to sign up for identity-theft protection.
The moderate dark patterns got more than twice as many people to sign up—26% versus 11% in the control group—without leaving subjects angry. “There’s no backlash for companies that employ these techniques, if our results are externally valid,” Strahilevitz said. “They can employ just a couple of dark patterns and get away with it.”
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