After reading up on dark patterns ( http://darkpatterns.org/ ) and radical persuasion design, I have a question.

What examples are there of companies facing consequences (like litigation, lost conversions, etc.) for using techniques like this? Just like we can say that black hat SEO can result in companies being removed from search engines altogether, I want to make the point that even though dark patterns trick people into buying more, etc., it's a short-term lift, and the long-term consequences mean that it's not worth it.

Thoughts? Examples?


I'm the curator of darkpatterns.org.

One big problem with Dark Patterns is that they deliver great conversion rates, so site owners like using them. Sure, if the site owner gets too greedy, it can backfire - but a smart black hat designer makes sure they keep it small scale - as the old saying goes "You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once.”. This is why they usually only "shear" you for $10-20 a time. Enough to make money but not enough to make all their customers angry.

Another big problem with Dark Patterns is that consumers today don't really notice these tricks because they are usually small and subtle. When consumer do notice them, they often self blame ("I'm not savvy enough!") and also many assume that most sites do it, and they can't really take their business elsewhere.

Until customers open their eyes to dark patterns and start taking their business elsewhere, the problem isn't really going away.

I'm currently working on turning darkpatterns.org into a public wiki. I'm hoping that all of us white-hat designers will participate and keep it up-to-date with new patterns and examples.

I admit it's not a solution, but it's a step in the right direction.

By the way, if you want to become an active community member, get in touch with me: @harrybr.

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A couple of years ago I was involved in the development of the site for a travel company here in the Netherlands. They focused on trips by car, which is a popular affordable way to go on holiday in Europe, so most of the destinations were throughout Germany, France, Spain, etc. Locations were rented by private individuals and this site was essentially a reseller for over a thousand of these from lodges to B&Bs.

Because this site had a pretty low turnover and wasn't able to really sell vacations for much more than the locations themselves charged, they depended on sales of travel and cancellation insurance. The initial design of the booking forms included auto-selected insurances and "extended insurance".

Both the auto-selection as well as the vagueness of the "extended" insurance didn't sit well with us, and we recommended not taking that direction, but the client essentially told us to build it that way anyway as their revenue depended on sales of them. We argued that if you're just up front about the quality of the insurance, and provide statistics or something about how beneficial it is to take insurance (which it is, especially if you're traveling pretty far and with a few people), they'd get their income but without pissing people off.

They disagreed.

Today the form no longer auto-selects and includes pop-ups with more information on the extended insurances. They got enough complaints and enough overhead spent on resolving the problem that they made a design change, since all their support and booking resolution was handled in-house over the phone. For them to make such a far-reaching change (considering they complained that it was so important) suggests that the negative feedback was quite significant.

The whole thing reminds me of this quote: (bonus points if you know from what movie!)

My boss said I can take $100 off that Tru-coat!

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    Fargo is a great movie, but the point is so well made - people MIGHT go ahead and spend the extra, but they will hate you and never come back, and they will tell their friends and strangers how crap you are. It's probably the dumbest thing you could do (treat your customers like idiots and mislead them). – Bernhard Hofmann Sep 28 '10 at 9:46

Treating your customers badly will came back to hurt you eventually.

You may make quite a bit of money for years and years but at the end someone will sue you, pass a law that makes what you are doing illegal or expose you and ruin your reputation.

Also there is also a chance of a competitor that treats customers better will take away your market share (there's also a even better chance of someone who is better at the dark stuff to run you out of business).

Not to mention that by using the "dark patterns" you are hurting the entire industry, I'm sure I personally am losing sales (I'm selling software on-line) because people who have been burnt by dark tactics are reluctant to buy on-line again.

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