When I was in college, I attended an old-fashioned tent revival performance. My roommate was taking a comparative religion class and I accompanied him to a number of spiritual events outside of the realm of most students’ experiences.
The event took place in a huge tent in a field outside of town. The tent contained around 100 folding chairs for the audience and a solid stage for the preachers and for the really talented electric group of five musicians supporting them. Half an hour after the start of the procedure, the preacher cried out that everyone who loved God should jump to their feet. Almost everyone did, and he stale them. The music picked up and the preacher cried out that everyone who loved Jesus should jump to their feet. Almost everyone did, and he stale them. Now the music has reached a crescendo as the preacher said that anyone who loves Jesus and God enough to donate $ 500 should jump on their feet.
A few people, overtaken by the swollen noise, the energy of the crowd and the delicate cadence of the preacher rose to their feet and were immediately swarmed by the preacher’s people, who took their name and / or their money from it. moment. The few people who were standing did not seem eager to donate, but unsure of what had just happened and too embarrassed to sit down when the crowd watched them.
I think of that night whenever I consider how adept humans have become at deceiving other humans. The show tent preacher had clearly planned his manipulation well in advance, involving sights, sounds, heat, discomfort, movement patterns, crowd dynamics, and a practiced vocal trap, and he managed to squeeze money out of the pockets of people who weren’t. plans to pay. Reach for them jeans and take them off green.
Such manipulations are common on the internet where businesses and scammers alike rely on everything from the latest research on brain function and logical shortcuts to fraud and outright manipulation to influence people’s behavior online. This type of manipulation is now called “dark patterns” and the limitation on dark patterns is attracting the attention of regulators and consumer advocates at all levels.1 US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Rohit Chopra, recently chosen by President Biden to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said dark models “pose an even greater threat than their paper precursors. “And are” the successor online to decades of dirty dealing with direct mail marketing. “
The FTC recently ad a workshop to examine digital dark models with an eye on direct rules or regulations in the future. The workshop “will explore ways in which user interfaces can have the effect, intentionally or unintentionally, of obscuring, subverting or compromising consumer autonomy, decision-making or choice. For example, some sites insert additional items into a consumer’s online shopping cart or force users to navigate a maze of screens and confusing questions to avoid being charged for unwanted products or services. The FTC will ask, “What kinds of dark models or use cases of dark models should the FTC and other government regulators focus on when they initiate enforcement action and engage in other initiatives?” to fight dark models that are deceptive or unfair, or break the law. in some other way? ”
The State of California released new regulations to the California Consumer Privacy Act, which prohibits businesses from using dark patterns on their websites to prevent California consumers from opting out of the sale of personal information. California’s new omnibus privacy law, passed in November, goes further. The California Privacy Rights Act defines “dark grounds” and states that “any agreement obtained through the use of dark grounds does not constitute consent”. The state attorney general said the rules are designed to prevent sites that subvert consumers’ legal options. Other states are considering similar legislation.
The official attention on the subject stems from the well cited 2019 study by Arnuesh Mathur and others, who reviewed 53,000 product pages and 11,000 websites, finding that about one in ten of them used dark patterns to some extent. The authors noted five essential types of dark models manipulating internet behavior, including those that place more emphasis on a particular choice than others, lead users to make purchases without their knowledge, manifestly misleading statements or omissions. , information hidden or restricting the number of choices available. to a user. Some of them include the old-fashioned bait and switch devices, which opens up the prospect of one item being advertised only to steer them into another item with a higher margin. The site darkpatterns.org includes several more colorful examples of online manipulation.
Famous former US president “used dark schemes to get supporters to donate millions more than expected,” says The edge. The site reported: “In June 2020, the Trump campaign had started using dark patterns, computer interfaces designed to trick users into automatically signing campaign contributors to donate much more money than they intended – monthly recurring donations, recurring weekly donations, even a “money bomb” one-off surprise per month – per due diligence checkboxes for each option, burying the fine print under paragraphs of bold text, and forcing his supporters to go through it all and opt out if they wanted to make a simple donation. “Candidate’s supporters who tried to donate hundreds of dollars ended up being billed thousands of dollars, and then the candidate’s processor” pocketed $ 5 million in payment processing fees from those who requested refunds .
While one might question the value of combining actual fraud and deception with long-standing marketing tactics, such as offering the company’s preferred choice in a different font or color than the disadvantaged choice, there is no doubt that customer manipulation has been rampant online. It looks like we are about to treat these dirty transactions the same way we send to your home in the mail. You remember the mail, don’t you?
1 The term appears to have been coined by British consultant and customer experience designer Harry Brignull around 2012.