How Dark Patterns Trick You Online

How Dark Patterns Trick You Online

Dark patterns are features of interface design crafted to trick users into doing things that they might not want to do, but which benefit the business in question. Here’s an example: have you ever tried to delete your Amazon account? Here’s the Amazon homepage. What’s the first thing you might think to do? The obvious place to look is the account drop-down, here. Once you’re in here, you look around — it’s a lot of information. But if I’m interested in deleting my account, I’d think that ‘Your Account’ is probably a good place to go. Once I’m on this page, there’s a lot more information: ‘Payment options’, ‘Login & security’ and a bunch of stuff down here. Unfortunately, you could click every link on your account page but none would deliver you to a place where you could actually delete it, because it’s not here. In order to actually delete your Amazon account, you have to go all the way down to the bottom of the page, and under ‘Let Us Help You’ click ‘Help’. Once you’re in here, you have to navigate to ‘Need More Help?’ because, y’know, putting it on this page would just be too easy. Then click ‘Contact Us’.
(This is where it starts to get ridiculous.) It’s still nowhere to be seen, but of the four options on the top that you want help with, click ‘Prime or Something else’.
(You want the ‘Something else’.) In this ‘Tell us more about your issue’ drop-down, there’s still nothing that suggests account deletion; you just have to know to click ‘Login and security’, and then in a second drop-down, there it is, the magic button — ‘Close my account’. Except in order to actually do that, you now have to have a chat conversation with an Amazon associate who’s going to tell you all the reasons account deletion is a bad idea. See, you can’t delete the account yourself;
they have to do it for you. This is a dark pattern: a crappy user experience that intentionally makes it difficult, almost impossible without help, to do something that hurts Amazon. UX specialist Harry Brignull categorizes the specific kind of dark pattern as a ‘roach motel’: a design that makes it very easy for you to get into a situation, but very hard to get out. Brignull’s actually the one who coined the term ‘dark pattern’ in 2010 and he’s been cataloguing and lecturing about the issue ever since. Many of these dark patterns we’re all familiar with; I only have to search my email for a few seconds to find one. For example, here: I’m getting spam emails from Architectural Digest. I scroll down, and… Look at that. This is a mess, but it’s a mess on purpose. The unsubscribe link is here but it’s devilishly hard to see. That’s because it’s the same font and virtually the same color as the rest of the fine print. Here’s another dark pattern that uses color to misdirect: over at the UserTestingBlog, Jennifer Derome points out that the mobile game Two Dots carries you through the experience by offering green buttons. A green button to start the game, a green button to pick a level, a green button to start the level and three green buttons to continue to the next level, and so on. But once you lose a level, the color scheme changes. The first screen button you see leads you right to an in-app purchase, while the continue button is just a little X that blends into the larger element. (I wonder how many people clicked ‘Buy Moves’ reflexively as a Pavlovian response.) Now to be fair, this is a pretty benign dark pattern, but it shows how companies can use something as simple as color to trick you into doing what they want. On the more egregious end of the spectrum, you have stuff like this banner ad for Chatmost, which is made to look like it has a speck of dust on it, causing people to brush it away and accidentally click the link. Or you have sites like where they do everything in their power to increase the urgency of a purchase, going so far as to alert you in big red notifications of the hotel rooms that you *just* missed. (I mean, you better book now. You don’t want to be left behind again, do you?) Every once in a while, a company goes a little too far and actually breaks the law. Remember when you used to get spam with all those LinkedIn invites from friends? Well, that was because of a confusing dark pattern on their ‘Add Contacts’ page which allowed LinkedIn to scoop up people’s email contacts and send them messages repeatedly without their consent. In a comprehensive blog post, Dan Schlosser showed how LinkedIn tried to trick users eight times in their sign up and onboarding procedures into surrendering their email contacts. Unfortunately for LinkedIn, this proved to be a step too far; users filed a legal challenge claiming that sending multiple unwarranted emails hurt their professional reputation. LinkedIn settled the dispute for $13 million, which came out in the end to about $10 per user. It’s rare for dark patterns face consequences like these. Mostly, they stay *just* on the right side of the law, understanding that it’s hard to legislate around the psychological tricks of UX design. Everything on the internet is fighting for your attention, but there’s a difference between those who are taking the time to build trust and loyalty and the special offer you clicked which actually enrolled you in a monthly subscription, or the social network that dark-patterned you into letting it sell data that you didn’t even know it had. Some of the responsibility is on us but some is on design, too. And it’s not the fault of the designers — they’re just doing what they’re tasked to do, knowing full well that if they don’t, others will. As Brignull says, “Our best defense against the dark patterns is to be aware of them, and shame the companies who utilize them.” Design is what mediates our interaction with the Internet: it’s the language we read it in. It’s not too much to ask that that language be comprehensible and honest. [Hey, everybody! Thank you so much for watching.] [This episode was brought to you by NordVPN.] [Now, if you care, like I do, a lot about your privacy and security online,] [you should absolutely be using a VPN or a virtual private network] [to keep your data safe by allowing you to connect to stuff remotely] [so that prying eyes can’t see your IP address and private information.] [Personally, I’ve had a few hacking scares, so VPNs really help ease my mind when I’m online,] [and NordVPN is the best out there, bar none.] [If you’re watching this right now, you can get 77% off a three-year plan] [by visiting or using the promo code NERDWRITER at checkout.] [I’ve shopped around in this space and used a few VPNs — NordVPN is definitely my favorite by a mile.] [Not only does it have military-grade encryption and a thousand servers in 61 countries,] [You can run it simultaneously on up to six devices, which means you can run it] [on your computers and your phones, so that when you’re accessing Wi-Fi at a café (which I do a lot)] [or a restaurant or an airport, you know you’ll be safe.] [And again, NordVPN is offering my viewers 77% off three-year plans.] [Just go to or click the link in the description below] [to sign up and start protecting yourself.] [Thanks guys. I’ll see you next time!]

Danny Hutson

61 thoughts on “How Dark Patterns Trick You Online

  1. I mean in my opinion it should be hard to delete your own account since what if someone for some reason attempts to delete your account

  2. i found something with spotify on trying to cancel my subscription, the webpage was made to look like it couldn't load unless refreshed 3 times happened to everyone ive asked about it

  3. I watched this and just remembered I signed up for a 14 day "free trial" 13 days ago and they are going to charge me tomorrow. Thank you Nerdwriter. Thank you.

  4. If companies were honest and genuine, it would actually increase consumer satisfaction as well as their reputation and popularity, so if you see a company using dark patterns, it may be because they are hiding something from you.

  5. Let's not forget Adobe and their monthly billed, but yearly commitment subscription model. The catch is that at the end of the year, the cycle will renew binding you to another year, at a higher price. You can of course cancel it at any time if you wanna pay half the remaining amount for the year and instantly lose access to their product. The only way to get out of it without being screwed over is, as far as i can tell after half an hour of searching or so, is to put a calender alarm at the last month of the yearly cycle to cancel, or some obscure way like contacting their support team i guess. Fuck you Adobe, I hope everyone pirates your shit.

  6. Why would you close your Amazon account? Why not just stop using it? Delete your credit card from the account, if you want. By what does closing the account accomplish?

    Do you think that deletes all traces of your account and history? Even your credit card information?

    It doesn’t.! So simply stop using it, if you want. Closing the account doesn’t really accomplish anything anyway.

  7. Yeah, the only reason amazon still exists is because it's millions of users haven't found the way to delete their account.. because simply stop buying stuff is not enough for some reason.

  8. @4:00 The CTA "Add to network" Linkedin uses is not even properly placed. It should be on the right side, not the left.

  9. I kinda reversed these "dark patterns" in my mind, now i'm reflectively clicking on the small and greyed out links instead of the bright and shiny buttons.

  10. or… you can just google close amazon account and go to the helpful link on the home page " Help: About Closing Your Account

  11. Well – it was actually the same when I wanted to delete my Amazon Developer Account. I wrote an email to them – and they asked if I really want to do that. I was like "well – if I didn't want to do it, I wouldn't write to you".

  12. You did not delete your Amazon account. No one has. Ever.

    Someone has found out how to CLOSE their account, but no one has ever deleted their Amazon account.

  13. Starting with Windows 10, Microsoft made the worst design choice you could think of: The Login.
    There are now two ways to login: The local users and the Microsoft account.
    The latter is tied to the password you use for the online services and your windows license is connected with that account.
    Now, if there would be a data breach, all the salvaged passwords can be used to login on every device, you use that account with.
    This goes even the other way around, if an attacker gets a hold of that password, he can wreck havoc on your online account.
    Microsoft does a sneaky way to force you to connect W10 with your account, although you can choose specific W10 apps with your account.
    The button for it isn't even a button, it's a link. Everytime you see blue, underlined text, you usually think it's an Internet link, but in this case, it's a function.

  14. Another dark pattern is in registration, where I automatically click accept terms.
    Then, someone remove the tick and just do by registering, you agree… but instead he add Subscribe to spam

  15. Thank you for this video, very interesting to watch! And thank you very much for listing the music you used! ᵔωᵔ

  16. my mum got scammed like this… she was buying train tickets online and at the very end before she clicked pay now it had an option to sign up for a paid monthly service that gave you offers on train tickets. obviously she didnt tick the button because she didnt want this service, but the catch was, if you read the fine print it actually said tick the button if you DONT want this service.. and so she was roped into becoming a member of this without realising. it took her 6 months to notice a monthly fee being taken out her bank account!! (i know she should have realised sooner, i was pretty shocked). but eventually she noticed and i dont know how but somehow she got it all refunded. i guess the company knew what they did was pretty shady and didnt want it to become a bigger issue.

  17. This actually happened to me today, I wanted to delete my Facebook account (because I don't even use Facebook) and i was searching so long, at the end i just gave up because I couldn't find it XD

  18. Like on Xbox when you buy Xbox Gold it turns on auto-renew however, you can’t disable it from the Xbox, you have to do it on a computer. But when you disable it, if you go back on the Xbox, you can enable it. Smh

  19. Not offering a delete account option seems fairly reasonable, since you can just sign out and they wouldn't be sending notifications (or if they are you can disable them without having to delete your account).

  20. the worst shit is when it's like yeah it's 13 dollars a month than they ask you to pay for the whole fucking year and give you no option

  21. Nintendo actually did the exact opposite of this in a game. "Rusty's Real Deal Baseball." You could actually haggle with Rusty and lower the actual price for DLCs, and you'd get many options to reconsider and haggle to lower the price with Rusty. If you paid full price, Rusty would also remind you that you're using real money too.

  22. it took me like 15 minutes to figure out for my gramma to delete her Amazon account. it was so frickin annoying! you should name this video how to delete your Amazon account because I'm SURE older people need help with this

  23. Minor consumer issues and generally more benign than nefarious. Internet censorship, social media sites giving personal information to organizations like SPLC, hindrances to VPN use, the loss of privacy in general and the MSM narrative etc. is the dark I was expecting to hear about when I clicked on this link.

  24. Nord VPN is the worst for their dark patterns with their eternal: ONLY 9 HOURS LEFT and ticking!
    It's okay people there's always another deal, just don't pay full price.

  25. have herd of a light patter its basically the opposite of dark Patterns were try to get you to lowwer the price

  26. have herd of a light patter its basically the opposite of dark Patterns were try to get you to lowwer the price

  27. 5:23 "It's not too much to ask that that language be comprehensible and honest."
    How is this still a thing here in the Age of Trump? Yes, it is too much to ask. Deception and manipulation are a key part of human communication.

  28. what the fuck? how does Amazon get away with that.

    i don't get the name. "dark pattern." it doesn't make sense to me. it's just deception and throwing nonsense clutter at people to keep them from doing what they want.

    and i don't know how many people i speak for here, but things like the concealed ads don't make me buy the thing just cuz i end up there, they're just annoying so i close them!

  29. You don't need to delete your account. It hurts Amazon by far much more, if you simply don't order anymore, and your account is useless dead data on their server.

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