‘Dark patterns’ on the Internet

‘Dark patterns’ on the Internet

#GS-03 Science and Technology, Cybersecurity

For Prelims:

Dark Patterns:

  • Dark patterns also known as “deceptive patterns” are unethical user interface designs which are aimed to exploit the user or make a person’s browsing experience harder.
  • Using dark patterns, the digital platforms are taking away a user’s right to full information about the services they are using and their control over their browsing experience.
  • This term was coined by Harry Brignul who is a UI/UX (user interface/user experience) researcher and designer.

How it works:

  • It works by creating convoluted terms and conditions which users have to agree to or forcing users to click on unnecessary urls (uniform resource locator).
  • These results in user’s inboxes getting flooded with promotional emails they never wanted and making it hard to unsubscribe or request deletion.


For Mains

Examples of usage of Dark Patterns:

  • Amazon was heavily criticised by EU for its confusing, multi-step cancelling process in Amazon Prime
  • EU consumer regulators have been able to make the cancellation process easier for online customers in European countries.
  • LinkedIn users often reported of receiving unsolicited, sponsored messages from influencers which requires a difficult process with multiple steps to disable.
  • Instagram has been known to show suggested posts that the users did not wish to see with no way to permanently set preferences.

Issues with Dark Patterns:

Dark patterns make the users more vulnerable to financial and data exploitation by Big Tech firms.

Federal Trade Commission [FTC] of United States have identified over 30 dark patterns which are considered standard practice such as:

  • “baseless” countdowns for online deals,
  • conditions in fine print that add on to costs,
  • making cancellation buttons hard to see or click,
  • making ads appear as news reports or celebrity endorsements,
  • auto-playing videos,
  • forcing users to create accounts to finish a transaction,
  • silently charging credit cards after free trials end, and
  • using dull colours to hide information that users should know about.

Source “‘Dark patterns’ on the Internet: how companies are tricking their users