What is dark pattern?

“A Dark Pattern is a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things, such as buying insurance with their purchase or signing up for recurring bills.” – http://darkpatterns.org/
Dark patterns are not web developer mistakes, they are intentionally created, using a human psychology to fulfill one goal, trick users. If user does not pay enough attention or in hurry made a quick registration, an unwanted option can be selected easily. This way user can choose something or subscribe for service what actually never wanted or worst – can cause high bills.

I’m sure that every internet user has at least once met with dark patterns – example: hidden costs, the important information was hidden, got trick questions…

There are many well-known and defined dark patterns, like:

  • Bait and Switch – The user sets out to do one thing, but a different thing happens instead
  • Disguised Ads – Adverts that are disguised as other kinds of content or navigation, in order to get users to click on them.
  • Faraway Bill – Utility companies traditionally sent out monthly bills by snail mail, but today they tend to put them online.
  • Forced Continuity – The user signs up for a free trial on a website, and the credit card details are required. When the trial ends, they automatically start getting billed for the paid service.
  • Forced Disclosure – In return for a free or low-cost action, the site requires the user to disclose extensive personal information.
  • Friend Spam – A site or game asks for your Twitter or email credentials, but then goes on to publish content or send out bulk messages using your account
  • Hidden Costs – A hidden cost occurs when a user gets to the last step of the checkout process, only to discover some unexpected charges have appeared, e.g. delivery charges, tax, etc.
  • Misdirection – The attention of the user is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another
  • Price Comparison Prevention – The attention of the user is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another
  • Privacy Zuckering – “The act of creating deliberately confusing jargon and user-interfaces which trick your users into sharing more info about themselves than they really want to.” (As defined by the EFF)
  • Roach Motel – A Roach Motel makes it very easy for a user to get into a certain situation, but then makes it hard for them to get out of it. Cancelling the email newsletter subscription is a well-known example
  • Road Block – When the user’s progress to task completion is restricted or stopped by something else on the screen
  • Sneak into Basket – Somewhere in the purchasing flow the site sneaks an additional item into their basket
  • Trick Questions – The user is required to respond to a question, which, when glanced upon quickly appears to ask one thing, but if read carefully, asks another thing entirely.

You can find more details for every type of dark patterns on page: http://darkpatterns.org/

Why is important for a tester to recognize the dark patterns?

Testers are the last checkpoint before an application or website goes live, and if the tester does not recognize the dark pattern, it will reach the customers. Because of this the product can fail or it might have very poor user rating and all of the invested time and money are wasted.
A professional software tester needs to recognize the dark patterns and need to warn the developers/owners about this and should insist on having the information correctly displayed, without any tricky questions, without misleading wording or any kind of hidden costs or forced continuity.

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