You’ve probably seen privacy settings that seem intentionally confusing or have been forced to jump through hoops just to end an online subscription. All of those manipulative practices and confusing language are known as “dark patterns,” and as Consumer Reports explains, they can lead you to make choices you usually wouldn’t.
Dark patterns seem to be popping up everywhere, even on mainstream apps and websites. You can often find them when you’re registering for a new online account; maybe you have to click a box to keep the company from bombarding you with email. Dark patterns can also show up when you’re unsubscribing or setting up stricter privacy settings. Aside from being annoying, Consumer Reports says these dark patterns can really do harm.
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.
Another problem is that some experts say dark patterns disproportionately affect people of color or those in communities where there may be less education about technology or where people speak English as a second language.
To combat the problem, Consumer Reports and several partners have launched the Dark Patterns Tip Line, where consumers can anonymously submit those they see online.
The tip line is meant to help educate consumers and help researchers identify trends, spot repeat offenders, and advocate for better policy reforms.
So what can you do? Consumer Reports says learning to recognize different types of dark patterns can help you navigate the web and mobile apps more safely.
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Consumer Reports says other ways to avoid these traps are to take the time to examine the language you’re seeing and what you’re about to click on, and you shouldn’t assume that the default choices are the right options.