Dark Patterns: Is the Future of Free Video Editing Software Duplicity, Carelessness, and Indifference?

August 31, 2020

One of the DarkCyber team suggested a run down of three free video editing software solutions. We had just finished a couple of our for-fee write ups about technology related to warfighting, and I concluded that the group wanted a break from million watt beam weapons.

I said, “Okay, just use a machine we don’t rely on for real work.” Stephanie was thrilled when Ben said he would help. The three “free” software solutions these two set about installing were:

DaVinci Resolve, allegedly “the standard for high end post production and finishing on more Hollywood feature films, television shows and commercials than any other software.” You can get a free copy at this link. (There is a $300 version too.)

HitFilm Express, allegedly “a free video editing software with professional-grade VFX tools and everything you need to make awesome content, films or gaming videos.” You can get a free copy at this link.

Shotcut, a free, open source, cross platform video editor. You can get a copy at this link.

We never got to the review. We were trapped in what sure looks like the FXHome / HitFilm Express dark pattern. It was a swamp populated by creatures dependent on auto reply email, bizarre instructions, and names like “Dibs” and “Joe.” So wholesome, yet so frustrating despite the friendly monikers.

This blog post is about dark patterns, not the video editing software. Sorry, Stephanie (the team member who cooked up the idea for the story.) Read on to find out why DarkCyber cares about a single firm and its enthusiastic pursuit of dark patterns.

The illustration below is a depiction of Dante’s Inferno. About eight layers down is the Dark Pattern of FXHome. That’s better than spending every day, all day with Beelzebub and the gang.

What’s a dark pattern?

The phrase means, according to the ever reliable Wikipedia, “A user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.”

Stephanie tried to install the software and was greeted with a Web page presenting her with options to upgrade the free software by purchasing $25 to $50 dollar bundles of macros and pre-sets. Puzzled, she retrieved the details for the accounts we use to purchase software, pay for subscriptions, and buy crap from Amazon.

I ignored her grumbling, but I noticed when two of my engineers were standing behind her staring at the screen and getting that weird look in their eyes when something does not compute. I walked over to the group and said, “When will you finish your reviews of these three tools?”

Stephanie said, “I am running behind. I spent yesterday and today trying to get the software to work. Apparently someone installed a version of HitFilm Express last year, and now FXHome took the money, sent a series of steps, and nothing works.”

I said, “Okay, write the company. Explain what happened and get help to install the software.”

My two engineers nodded and walked away. This, in my experience, meant that the HitFilm Express software was something that presented numerous challenges. Researching and analyzing EMP technology was more appealing than not-so-free software.

I told Stephanie to give me the user name and password she used to buy the software. I happily logged in from a different machine, created a user name and password, saw the same difficult to evade plea to buy add-in packs, and I bought a $39 pack. The video editor came up but no add in software.

Now I was intrigued. Two installations. Almost $80US down a rat hole and no special add in packs. I told my engineers to log in, get the install information, and see if each could get the software to work.

Nope. FXHome has a system to take money. FXHome does not have a functional, reliable system to deliver what the customer purchased.

Now I am thinking cyber fraud. Call me silly, but I am a suspicious person, and when we write about next generation weapons, what type of customers do we have? Certainly not the Vatican or Green Peace.

I found a customer support email which is managed by “smart” software. The email to which I was directed is support@fxhome.com and along the line of a series of email exchanges over the span of nine days a human included his/her name. That individual identified himself/herself as Dibs McCallum.

The dark patterns we believe the user interface implements for the free software includes these elements:

  1. Blandishments to purchase upgrades before allowing downloads
  2. Instructions for installing software which do not install software
  3. Customer service interfaces intended to frustrate those seeking information; for example, the FXHome system strips attachments even though people or bots like Dibs McCallum request them and your truly attaches them. Even more dutifully I resend the attachments and receive zero acknowledgement or information about the failure.

Where am I? Well, definitely there is no review of FXHome. It is tough to write about software which does not function. The upside is that I have an anecdote for my next cyber crime lecture. As we were editing this story, PayPal reported a refund of $39. FXHome still has $39 and we have no functioning software.

When I step back and look at this series of events involving three of my team and the ever helpful Dibs McCallum, who insisted that attachments showing the unhelpful error messages HitFilm Express displayed, did not arrive.

Then there was this email:

Allow me to explain. You buy from us. If you want a refund within 14 days you get one.
That is why I have refunded both your order 0000000000000 for $39 that you made by credit card under the email seaky2000@yahoo.com and also your order 0000000000000 for $39 that you made via PayPal that you made under the email 00@arnoldit.com. Both amounts will appear in your prospective credit card and PayPal statements within the next 5-10 working days. Though most likely far sooner. This does mean your software packs will no longer work of course. Those effects will be deactivated and you are left with the free HitFilm Express without the extra content. It is always best to remember what email you use for purchases as it can be confusing if you habitually use more than one email. We are always dealing with this confusion with customers. Very common.
Best Regards, Joe Gould, Business Coordinator

Notice the phrase “We are always dealing with this confusion”.

Yeah, Joe said, “Always.” What’s that old saw about doing the same thing over and over? Was it ground hog day or one of Dante’s circles of Hell?

The dark pattern is apparently accidental. A situation exists which creates an “always” situation. Why not figure out changes to the system to eliminate an “always” problem. Why not think through making the interface work with a customer, not against the customer. Why not skip the “buy more add in packs”? Just charge people money.

What’s free mean? Upsells, confusing purchase options, and a “system” designed to make the craziness of Microsoft customer support for non-installable $0.99 HEVC codecs look like a paragon of lucidity.

One answer is that it earned this write up in Beyond Search and DarkCyber. It has converted sweet Stephanie into a termagant and HitFilm Express hater. (Good work that.)

Observations:

  • Generating sustainable revenue is difficult. If a product is “good,” people will pay for it. If a product is not so good, carelessness, indifference, or laziness generates “buy this, then that” solutions. Helpful? Not so much. Suggestion for FXHome: Less weird orange color and more begging for dollar options like Indiegogo or Patreon, among others?
  • Competing against Adobe, Apple, Magix, and other for-fee video editing programs is difficult. Yes, DarkCyber understands that FXHome needs revenue. Suggestion: Why not sell a subscription to upgrades?
  • Relying on an interface and the people who conceived it may not be a winning tactic. Staff changes and additional inputs may provide the creative spark that moves beyond what sure look like dark patterns. Suggestion: Skip the hear, speak, and see no evil approach to your current upgrade interface. Listen and fix the problem. “Always”. Wow, that’s an endorsement of clear thinking.

Is DarkCyber suspicious? Yep. FXHome could be a YouTube video titled UXMoan.

Stephen E Arnold, August 31, 2020

Comments

Got something to say?





  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta