Many of New Zealand’s most popular websites use ‘dark patterns’ to manipulate users – is it time to regulate?



More than half of New Zealand’s most popular websites may unfairly manipulate visitors, according to our latest research in the use of “dark patterns” in sites with a “” domain name.

Although legal, dark grounds have been describe as a type of online design used to manipulate users into “making decisions which, if they were fully informed and able to select alternatives, they might not”.

They are effective because they use knowledge about human psychology to harm the autonomy of users or encourage users to least privacy-friendly options.

Common examples include the so-called “roach motel”, Where it’s easy to get into an online situation but hard to get out – like signing up and then trying to cancel a streaming subscription.

There is also disguised ads, which are presented as other types of content or navigation to entice you to click. Some retail websites use dark patterns to entice users to spend more.

Dark patterns have been widely criticized in the United States and Europe. For example, the amendments to the California Consumer Privacy Act seek to prohibit “the use of dark grounds to subvert or obstruct the process by which consumers opt out of the sale of personal information”.

Are you sure? A typical example of the process of canceling – or “suspending” – a subscription.
Screenshot, Author provided

However, little research has been done in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The Trade Commission spoke out against Jetstar’s online withdrawal pricing tactics in 2016, but dark trends don’t seem to be on the government’s legislative radar.

How do I unsubscribe?

We have found that dark patterns are indeed a hallmark of New Zealanders’ online experiences. Our top 100 local sites list (based on user traffic) included media, e-commerce, government, telecommunications, real estate, and banking websites.

We simulated the daily use of the sites: arriving at a home page, scrolling and interacting with multimedia content, purchasing a product, subscribing and canceling a service.

Read More: We Need Code To Protect Our Online Privacy And Eliminate ‘Dark Patterns’ In Digital Design

A fuller picture was limited by our inability to fully access some government or banking websites, but overall results showed that 54% of the sites had one or more dark models. E-commerce sites were the biggest offenders, followed by media sites.

Research also reveals that dark trends tend to cluster around financial transactions, followed by homepage navigation and when attempting to cancel a service or subscription.

Welcome to the roach motel: Pushing customers to sign up for newsletters is a common tactic.

Shopping and media

Online shoppers are most likely to encounter a dark trend when purchasing a product or service. Examples include a countdown timer to encourage Buy Now, or activity notifications (such as when a user is notified that other customers are browsing the same item) to invoke fear of missing something.

Buyers are also likely to encounter a dark pattern in the form of pop-ups when they first arrive at an ecommerce site. Many of these users entice users to sign up for notifications or newsletters in exchange for a reduced price or “VIP” notice of upcoming sales.

News consumers are particularly likely to encounter dark patterns in the form of interface interference to increase engagement metrics and generate ad revenue – for example, the autoplay feature on embedded video content.

Subscribers to premium media services are more likely to encounter some form of obstruction when attempting to cancel a service, donation or subscription – again the “motel roach”.

Read more: The rise of dark web design: how sites manipulate you by clicking

Customer watch

Another common dark pattern we observed involved some form of customer surveillance – the requirement that online shoppers record their personal information in order to use a site, even when they are simply browsing items.

In addition to allowing permanent contact between the company and the potential customer, this offers the company the possibility of collecting valuable behavioral data on consumer habits.

Read more: Daemons are the programs that run the Internet. Here’s why it’s important to understand them.

These types of dark patterns normalize the exchange of personal data for very little in return. Although consent can be implied when a user provides their contact details, most users are not informed of how their data will be used.

Dark models also appear to be used to reduce business costs through an interface design that discourages certain types of communication, like speaking to a customer service representative, in favor of more cost-effective options like “pages”. frequently asked questions ”, online forms or an automated web chat.

Many New Zealand websites are purposely designed to sort out customer queries and reduce the business costs associated with processing them.

Let the chat bot help you: limiting human interactions allows companies to cut costs.

Regulation versus education

The culture of containment is changing online spending habits. The time spent online is increase quickly, New Zealanders now spend an average of six hours and 39 minutes on the Internet per day.

Along with these changes in user behavior, artificial intelligence is increasingly being used to shape user experiences based on individual data profiles and behavioral histories.

As a result, people are increasingly likely to be subjected to personalized and targeted manipulation when conducting online activities, especially online shopping.

Greater awareness of the dark arts of interface design can help users avoid this in their daily lives online. But changes to relevant regulations, such as the Fair Trading Act and the Privacy Act, would also strengthen New Zealanders’ consumer and privacy rights.



Leave A Reply