A Useful but Brief Taxonomy of Dark Patterns

December 29, 2020

The idea that one can lead a hapless Web surfer by the nose has been fascinating to me for years. The idea is that one tries to purchase something online; for example, a downloadable Photoshop macro or buy a package of batteries on a deal site. Then the system pops up requests for information or displays “Other customers liked” messages. The person who follows these digital breadcrumbs discovers that a surprise has been delivered. The single macro is a bundle and the batteries include an flashlight.

Types of Dark Patterns” provides a handy list of the specific methods for getting that nose going in the direction it may not have wanted to go. The write up includes 12 types of dark patterns. I am not confident that the list is exhaustive, but it is a good start. Here are three dark patterns briefly explained in the article, and be sure to consult the original write up for the complete list:

  • Privacy Zuckering. This pattern is named in honor of that estimable innovator Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Hidden costs. A popular method for some eBay sellers and a vendor who sells big bars of soap.
  • Forced continuity. The name could be better but the idea is that a single purchase leads to monthly charges because you subscribed to something. Perhaps it is a good idea to check PayPal to see if a merchant has been billing a modest amount each month even though you purchased a single service on Fiverr, the Israel-based gig site.

There’s nothing like cleverness combined with duplicity in the wild, wonderful world of online.

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2020


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