Most websites that you visit now display a pop-up. This annoying impediment is known as the ” Cookie banner“. It’s there to obtain your consent, according to online privacy laws. Websites can retain information about you between browsing sessions.
The cookie banner claims to give you the option to either consent to just essential cookies to maintain your browsing functionality or to accept all cookies, including cookies that track your browsing history for targeted advertising firms. Cookie banners are designed to trick you into accepting all cookies , as these additional cookies can generate additional revenue for websites we visit.
Recently, the UK’s information commissioner urged G7 members to address this issue. This highlighted how tired web users are willing to share more personal data than necessary. However, manipulative cookie banners can be just one example of “dark design”, which is the practice of designing user interfaces to deceive or trick users.
It has been proven that dark design is a powerful way to get web users to give up their privacy, time, and money. This has led to “dark patterns“, which are a set of techniques designers can use to manipulate users. These are difficult to detect, but they’re becoming more common in apps and websites we use every day. They create products that can be manipulative by design.
The most prominent form of dark design is still the cookie banner. The “accept all” button on any website is brightly and large, drawing your attention in a matter of seconds. The “confirm options” and “manage settings”, which are the ones that allow us to protect our privacy, are less obvious and take up more of your time.
From experience, you’ll be able to tell which one you prefer to click. You can also try the Cookies Consent Speed-Run which is an online game that demonstrates how difficult it can be to click the correct button when faced with dark design.
E-commerce websites often use dark colors. Let’s say you find a product that is reasonably priced and you want to purchase it. After finding a product you like, you create an account and enter your delivery details. The final cost of delivery is then revealed to be mysteriously higher than what you thought. These “hidden costs” are not accidental. The designer wants you to click “order” instead of spending more time on the same thing on another website.
Dark design also has other elements that are not as obvious. Facebook and YouTube, free services, monetise attention by placing ads in front of your eyes as you scroll, browse, or watch. This ” attention economy” makes more money for companies the more you scroll and watch. These platforms are designed to keep your attention. YouTube’s “Up Next”, video suggestion algorithm is a great example of this. It can keep us entertained for hours if they let us.
It’s not just a website problem that manipulating users for profit. More than 95% (of the Android apps) are available on Google Play. They can be downloaded and used for free. These apps are difficult to create and require a team of developers, testers, artists, designers and developers. Designers know that once they get us hooked on their apps, they will recoup the investment. They do this using dark design.
My colleague and I discovered a lot of dark designs in recent research. We were analyzing app-based games for teens that are very popular today. Users are often forced to view adverts, and sometimes they encounter disguised ads that appear like they are part of the game. Users are encouraged to share posts via social media and are asked to make in-app purchase to distinguish themselves from their peers.
Some of the psychological manipulations are inappropriate for younger users. To exploit teenage girls’ vulnerability to peer influence, clothes are bought for their avatars in-game. While some games encourage unhealthy body imagery, others encourage bullying between characters.
There are several mechanisms that protect children from psychological manipulation. These include codes and practice age rating systems. These mechanisms depend on developers correctly understanding and interpreting the guidance. In the case of Google Play store developers verify their work, and users can report any problems. I have found that these methods are not working.
Dark design can be difficult to spot. Dark patterns are a common feature in every developer’s toolbox and spread quickly. Designers can’t resist dark patterns when there are so many free apps and websites competing for our attention. These metrics include “time on page” as well as “user conversion rate”.
While cookie banners can be annoying and sometimes dishonest, it is important to consider the wider implications of an online environment that is becoming more manipulative by design. Dark design can be used to influence our choices about our time, money, and consent. It is possible to detect and defeat dark patterns by understanding how they work and what they are trying to accomplish.