How ‘dark patterns’ online manipulate shoppers

By | August 2, 2019

Sidney Fussell reports:

Dark patterns are the often unseen web-design choices that trick users into handing over more time, money, or attention than they realize. A team of Princeton researchers is cataloging these deceptive techniques, using data pulled from 11,000 shopping sites, to identify 15 ways sites subtly game our cognition to control us.

The research builds on the work of Harry Brignull, a London-based cognitive scientist who coined the term dark pattern in 2010, and the authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, whose work on “nudges” explores how default options influence behavior. Just over one in 10 websites contain at least one type of dark pattern, the Princeton research finds. The more popular the site, the more likely it has at least one.

The most common dark pattern is scarcity bias: Put an item in your cart, and you’ll be served a message claiming “Only eight left in stock!” thereby urging you to buy immediately before the item is gone. But by analyzing webpages’ scripts and plug-ins, the researchers found that in many cases, these numbers are either generated randomly or set to decrease according to a schedule. [Continue reading…]

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