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Dark Patterns on Websites – Part 2

Evil is always and everywhere 

Evil is always and everywhere

After reading the first part of this series of articles, which discussed dark patterns in general, in this article we will look at some of these strategies in detail. If you then take a closer look at the many different cookie banners on websites, you will realize what the Austrian pop scene already knew 35 years ago: Evil is always and everywhere.

“overload”

Let’s start with “overloading”. It denotes too much information, a confusing structure and too many choices. Admittedly, meeting the relevant requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is not an easy task. After all, the information provided should be precise, complete and yet easy to understand, even humor should be allowed. However, on a first visit, to the complete surprise of us privacy advisors, a user usually does not want to explore the details of the privacy policy, but simply see the website where they want to book their trip or find the ultimate Bundt cake recipe. Everything that distracts him is annoying and should disappear as quickly as possible. So what does the inclined user do when presented with a multitude of options and a desert of text? Right! “Accept everything” – and that is also the goal of the website operator. Maybe legitimate, but not fair.

So not like that

A good consent management tool masters the balancing act between complete information and clarity. In a first information level, the information is structured, for example divided into different categories. The most important statements should already be given here. In a short way, the view can then be expanded in such a way that all details are also visible. This reduces the ” mental load ” in understanding the setting options offered by the website.

“skipping”

Another strategy is to urge “skipping”, i.e. skipping settings. This can be done in two ways. On the one hand, with a violation of the principle of “privacy-by-default”, certain settings are already preselected, which are desirable for the website operator but potentially lead to a disadvantage for the user. If there really is a choice, either the most data-efficient option should be preselected or none at all and the user must expressly choose one option.

The second method of “skipping” is collecting data while hiding the possibility of skipping. This means the user is left in the belief that data must be entered and a selection must be made because the button/link with “Skip this area” is designed very inconspicuously. The combination of light gray font on a white background with a small font size is often chosen. Sometimes you could also believe from the design that it is not a link at all but normal text. So you have the solution right in front of you, but you don’t recognize it. Unsurprisingly for many parents, this method is also called “ hidden in plain sight ”.

You don’t have to

Of course, if you want to treat your website visitors fairly, you don’t need such tricks. A good user interface ensures that the user can reliably recognize all clickable elements through a uniform presentation. However, the human imagination does not end there. We explore more Dark Patterns in the next part of this series of articles using the terms “Stirring”, “Hindering”, “Fickle” and “Left in the dark”.

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