The rise of dark web design


The vast majority of websites you visit now greet you with a pop-up window. This annoying obstacle to your seamless web browsing is called the “cookies banner”, And he is there to obtain your consent, according to online privacy laws, so that websites keep information about you between browsing sessions.

The cookie banner purports to give you a choice: consent only to essential cookies that help maintain your browsing functionality, or accept all of them, including cookies that track your browsing history for sale to targeted advertising companies. Because these additional cookies generate additional income for the websites we visit, cookie banners are often designed to trick you into clicking “accept all”.

British Information Commissioner recently asked G7 countries to address this issue, highlighting how tired internet users are willing to share more personal data than they would like. But in truth, manipulative cookie banners are just one example of what is called “dark design”, the practice of creating user interfaces that are intentionally designed to deceive or deceive the user.

Dark design has proven to be an incredibly effective way to encourage internet users to part with their time, money, and privacy. This in turn established “dark patternsOr sets of practices that designers know they can use to manipulate Internet users. They’re hard to spot, but they’re becoming more prevalent in the websites and apps we use every day, creating manipulative design products, much like the persistent, ubiquitous pop-ups we are forced to close. when we visit a new website.

Cookie banners remain the most obvious form of dark design. You’ll notice how big and cheerfully highlighted the ‘Accept All’ button is, catching your cursor a fraction of a second after you land on a website. Meanwhile, dull and less visible “confirm choices” or “manage settings” buttons, the ones through which we can protect our privacy, scare us with longer clicks.

You will know from experience which you tend to click. Or you can try the Cookie Consent Speed-Run, an online game that shows how hard it is to right-click when faced with a dark design.

E-commerce sites too use frequently dark patterns. Suppose you have found a competitively priced product that you would like to purchase. You dutifully create an account, select your product specifications, enter delivery details, click on the checkout page, and discover that the final cost, including delivery, is mysteriously higher than you might expect. origin. Those “hidden costsAre not accidental: the designer hopes you will just click “order” rather than spending even more time repeating the same process on another website.

Other dark design elements are less obvious. Free services like Facebook and YouTube monetize your attention by placing ads in front of you as you scroll, browse, or watch. In this “attention economyThe more you scroll or watch, the more money businesses make. These platforms are therefore intentionally optimized for command and hold your attention, even if you prefer to close the app and continue with your day. For example, the expert-designed algorithm behind YouTube’s “To watch” video suggestions may keep us watch for hours if we let them.

Application design

Manipulation of users for commercial purposes is not only used on websites. Currently, more than 95 percent of Android apps on the Google Play store are free to download and use. Building these apps is an expensive endeavor, requiring teams of designers, developers, artists, and testers. But the designers know they’ll recoup that investment once we get hooked on their “free” apps, and they do so using a dark design.

In recent research By analyzing the free app-based games that are popular with teenagers today, my colleague and I identified dozens of dark design examples. Users are forced to watch advertisements and frequently come across disguised advertisements that resemble a part of the game. They are invited to share social media posts and, when their friends join the game, are invited to make in-app purchases for differentiate their character from that of their peers.

Some of these psychological manipulations seem inappropriate for young users. Teenage girls’ susceptibility to peer influence is exploited to get them to buy clothes for game avatars. Some games promote unhealthy body images while others demonstrate and encourage bullying by indirect aggression between the characters.

There are mechanisms to protect young users from psychological manipulation, such as age rating systems, codes of practice, and guidelines that specifically prohibit the use of dark design. But these are based on the correct understanding and interpretation by the developers of this guide and, in the case of the Google play store, developers control their own work and it’s up to users to report any issues. My research indicates that these measures are not yet fully effective.

Turn on the light

The problem with the dark design is that it’s hard to spot. And the dark patterns, which are established in every developer’s toolbox, spread quickly. They’re hard for designers to resist when free websites and apps vie for our attention, judged on metrics like “time on page” and “user conversion rate”.

So, while cookie banners are boring and often dishonest, we need to consider the broader implications of an online ecosystem that is increasingly manipulative by design. Dark design is used to influence our decisions about our time, money, personal data, and consent. But a critical understanding of how dark models work and what they hope to achieve can help us detect and overcome their deception.


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