What Are Dark Patterns?

Have you ever been annoyed by a website? Really annoyed? For example, you click on a link to view a list of the top ten cities to visit, and instead of showing a list of ten cities, you see “City #10” with another link to click to see #9. And another. And another. Why not just have the list on a single page?

Sites like this sometimes make revenue by selling advertising on their web pages.  It is to the advantage of these websites’ owners to increase the time on their sites and/or the number of page loads so that the advertising rates can be increased.

This subversive type of design pattern is known as a “dark pattern.”  It is a way to trick the user into doing something solely to the advantage of the website owner.


There is an excellent website I have found called DarkPatterns.org that exposes these types of unethical tricks.  They provide a list of different types of dark patterns. These include:

  • Bait and Switch
  • Disguised Ads
  • Forced Continuity
  • Friend Spam
  • Hidden Costs
  • and several more…

The funniest name of all of these is “Privacy Zuckering.” You might already understand the joke. See the full list.

You can also help them any time you find a dark pattern existing on the web by taking a screenshot of it and tweeting it with the hashtag #darkpattern or mentioning them (@darkpatterns).  They might just add it to their Hall of Shame.

It is important that users on the web are thought of as precious human beings, not just pawns to advance one’s online application or website. At this still early stage in the history of the Web, we should make our voices be heard to promote good wherever we can so that it becomes the norm for future generations.



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