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👀 Today's Thing needs to be ~cancelled
#352 | Did you know about Deceptive Patterns online? Well, now you do.
Today's Thing is an exploration of something rather... insidious. You know how sometimes you sign up for a subscription online but can't figure out how to cancel your subscription or downgrade your plan because you just can't find the option on the website? It's there, but it's probably nested deep, deep down, in some menu you hadn't thought of. Or you're buying something online, and there's a little countdown timer on your checkout process? Well, today I learned that these things have a name. They're called Dark Patterns.
According to our good friend Wikipedia, a dark pattern is a "user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things". There are several patterns, and as you read about them, you'll realise you've probably encountered most of them in your online life. In fact, UX Designer Harry Brignull, the fellow responsible for coining the term, started a website explicitly meant to track, name and shame dark patterns (or deceptive patterns as they're also called). The website Deceptive Patterns also serves as a repository of laws, legal cases and resources about the issue.
Anyway, I got sucked into this rabbit hole while learning more about today's original Thing - this fantastic piece on Pudding.Cool, which you really should look at on a laptop or tablet for best effect. "How Companies Make It Difficult to Unsubscribe" is precisely what it sounds like - design researcher Caroline Sanders went through the process of unsubscribing from 16 different services and documented how each company made the process challenging - sometimes infuriating.
She's mapped out, with examples, the different instances of dark patterns you can see across a whole bunch of services, and they're pretty damn telling. In total, Sinders lost $330.60 and 57 minutes and 31 seconds during this experiment. In the piece, she also writes about the legalities of dark patterns and why they're an issue. It's a pretty informative and important read.
Why? Well, to pick up a quote from one of her sources - "You have, as a consumer, the right to cancel something, to not want to spend your money in a particular way, just because they can control the entire kind of digital environment in which you're doing business that you don't somehow have those rights is just fundamentally wrong."
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