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6 ways Big Tech is tricking you: A guide to recognizing Dark Patterns

The Detour Act, which is cosponsored by Senator Mark Warner and has bipartisan support, would make these practices illegal.

6 ways Big Tech is tricking you: A guide to recognizing Dark Patterns
[Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella]

The Detour Act, which Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) has cosponsored with Deb Fischer (R-NE), would bar digital platforms with more than 100 million monthly users from using deceptive design tricks known as “dark patterns,” a term coined in 2010 by UX researcher Harry Brig­null. If passed, the Detour Act would create a professional standards body in the FTC and outlaw the following types of common ploys.

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Privacy Piracy

Social platforms release more information to brokers than you realize. Also known as “Privacy Zuckering,” after Facebook’s CEO.

For Example: Facebook shares user data with advertisers by default. Users must change settings manually to opt out.

[Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella]

Misdirection

Page or app design purposefully focuses your attention on one thing to distract your attention from another.

For Example: Airbnb displays “per night” prices for listings, but other expensive line items such as cleaning, service fees, and tax aren’t shown until the booking process.


Related: This Senator is Big Tech’s best friend—and greatest threat


[Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella]

Disguised ads

Advertisements are cloaked as other kinds of content or navigation, in order to elicit a response from you.

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For Example: Although Google’s advertising platform has regulations against them, some ads it displays use fake “download” buttons to trick users into clicking on them.

[Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella]

Bait and switch

Software entices you to do one thing, but an undesirable thing happens instead.

For Example: Microsoft was criticized in 2016 when users noticed that hitting the X on a software update pop-up would actually download an app instead of closing the window.


RelatedOver 1,000 shopping sites, from J.Crew to Walmart, are deceiving users, study shows


[Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella]

Confirm shaming

The option to decline or opt out of a function or service is worded in such a way as to make users second-guess themselves.

For Example: To cancel Amazon Prime, users have to push buttons that read “Cancel membership and end benefits” and “I do not want my benefits.”

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[Illustration: Francesco Ciccolella]

Friend spam

A site asks for your email or social media permissions under false pretenses, then spams your contacts in a message claiming to be from you.

For Example: LinkedIn settled a class action lawsuit in 2015 for spamming users’ entire email contact lists when they clicked an “add to your network” button while signing up.

A version of this article appeared in the September 2019 issue of Fast Company magazine.

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