5 On Your Side

'Dark patterns' the newest consumer deception online

Posted October 18, 2021 10:52 a.m. EDT
Updated October 19, 2021 11:50 a.m. EDT

— There is a new term for online annoyances: Dark Patterns. They are tricks in websites and apps that make users click on things they didn’t intend to.

Websites large and small often choose designs that make it difficult and time-consuming to make changes, including if users want to limit the data the site collects, choose strong privacy settings or stop receiving marketing emails.

Privacy experts call those hard-to-find design elements "dark patterns."

Annoying, yes, but Consumer Reports warns they can be more.

“These manipulative practices can make people pay more than they should for a service, or push them to agree to let a company collect an excessive amount of their personal data,” says Thomas Germain, Consumer Reports’ tech editor.

Some experts note dark patterns disproportionately affect people of color, in communities where there may be less education about technology, or where some may speak English as a second language.

Consumer Reports and several partners launched the Dark Patterns Tip Line, where consumers can submit concerns they find.

It has a dual purpose.

"The tip line is meant to help educate consumers and help researchers identify trends, spot repeat offenders, and advocate for better policy reforms,” said Germain.

The first step for all is to be aware, then keep an eye out.

Consumer Reports says recognizing different types of dark patterns can help users navigate the web and mobile apps.

At a minimum, it can help you find an unsubscribe button that’s intentionally barely visible.

Don’t assume an app’s default choices are the right ones. Remember, they’re suggested by companies looking to make money.

Our commenting policy has changed. If you would like to comment, please share on social media using the icons below and comment there.