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Is UX design with the intent to change user behaviour without their permission or consent ethical?

There are a lot of UX designer being hired in the e-commerce space at the moment, and no doubt many will have experience competing or conflicting interests when it comes to business and sales-driven goals as part of the design requirements.

I have previously asked a question on UXSE about ethical standards for UX designers, and was wondering if it would be against some ethical or professional standard to change user behaviour without being upfront about it. I don't think we should make assumptions about whether or not our design is doing harm or not for the user, but as a minimum our intent should be to make our design decisions transparent to the user. There have been many questions raised about 'dark patterns' and 'anti-patterns' but nothing about how it fits into the framework for ethical practices and guidelines for UX practitioners (that I am aware of).

So is this a reasonable assumption to make, that we should not be 'secretly' modifying user behaviour, whether the intention is to do them some good or not? And I would like to know if it is against any existing or ad hoc ethical standards to modify user behaviour without being explicit about the changes you are introducing even if it is for their benefit (or so we assume/in line with our intent).

Even when Google makes updates to the Chrome browser it asks whether the user wants to apply the updates rather than just doing it automatically (unless you have those settings). Creating applications and plug-ins that won't work unless you update the browser, and not letting users know explicitly that you won't support them in future versions would be an example of forcing users to change their behaviour, but it is still something that can't happen unless the user explicitly indicates that they wish to do so (I believe).

Using a 'physical' example, if we design a new fire escape or exit sign in a building then we are potentially introducing a new behaviour. The workplace health and safety regulations might require users to participate in fire drills in order to become familiar with the location and procedure for evacuation in the event of a fire. One day you might find that the fire escape is fitted with a coin slot that requires you to insert money in order to activate the door, but that would still require you to make a decision between putting in money and open the door or to find an alternative path to escape. If one day the coin slot was removed, but as you pass through the door a device scans your building pass and docks the same amount of money from your pay then that would be an example of changing the user behaviour without their permission.

Based on all the answers and feedback, I think I can summarize the question using these two questions:

  • Question A: Is it ethical for a UX designer to design with the intent to change user behaviour for their own benefit (regardless of the benefit to the user)?
  • Question B:Is it ethical for a UX designer to design with the intent to change user behaviour without communicating it to them (either explicitly or indirectly)?