Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Wonder Friend. Wonder Friend Wonders, “What are dark patterns?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Wonder Friend!

Has anyone ever told you to be careful what you click on the Internet? That advice has never been more important. Between viruses and clickbait, there’s no end to the undesirable content online. Today’s Wonder of the Day is about another such danger—dark patterns.

What are dark patterns? They’re strategies for misleading or tricking Internet users into doing something they don’t want to do. Today, dark patterns are becoming more and more common. In fact, a 2019 study found that about 11 percent of shopping websites used them. 

At first glance, dark patterns may seem easy to avoid. Just read closely and be careful what you click, right? Well, it’s not always so simple. The user experience (UX) designer Dr. Harry Brignull coined the term “dark patterns” in 2010. As he explained, most people “don’t read every word on every page—you skim.” Some companies take advantage of this. They purposefully design pages to trick users.

How can you avoid falling for dark patterns? It helps to become familiar with the types of them out there. One example is the Roach Motel. It’s any unwanted situation that’s easy to get into but difficult to get out of. Have you ever found yourself subscribed to a daily email you didn’t mean to sign up for? If so, you’ve experienced this type of dark pattern.

Another example is Hidden Costs. This is common on shopping sites. Goods or services are advertised at one price, but surprise charges show up at checkout. This can include delivery fees and other unexpected charges. It can cause consumers to spend much more money than they expected. Similarly, a Forced Continuity dark pattern offers free trials that are difficult to cancel. This leads to the user being charged for a service.

What other types of dark patterns are out there? Some target people on social media. One example is Friend Spam. It requests a user’s social media permissions and then sends unwanted communication to their contacts. Another is called Privacy Zuckering, named after Facebook CEO and founder Mark Zuckerburg. It’s when companies lead users to share more of their private information than they want to.

Of course, some types of dark patterns can be avoided by close reading. One example is Trick Questions that seem to ask one thing but, when read closely, have a different meaning. Another is Misdirection. This is when a page is designed to point your attention away from one thing and toward something else. There are also Disguised Ads, which trick users into clicking on advertisements when they think they’re selecting a different option. 

Some dark patterns may seem harmless. However, they have far-reaching consequences. There are the dangers of lost money or privacy, of course. But many people also point to dark patterns as a cause for the spread of fake news.

Have you ever come across dark patterns? Many people have. After all, we spend a good deal of time online nowadays. That’s why it’s important to learn to spot these strategies and avoid their negative effects.

Standards: CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.4, CCRA.W.9, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

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