What ‘dark patterns’ are and why there’s now a tip line

Dark patterns can manipulate consumers to do something they otherwise would not

SAN ANTONIO – Even if you’re not familiar with “dark patterns,” you’ve undoubtedly encountered them on websites or apps.

They are design tactics some companies use to manipulate or mislead you to do something you might otherwise not do. Now, there is a tip line to report dark patterns and bring the practice to light.

You often find dark patterns when registering for a new online account. Or, maybe you have to click a box to keep the company from bombarding you with emails.

Confusing language when it comes to opting in or out is a dark pattern. Those x’s so tiny you don’t see where to close out a pop-up can be tricky, too. They can also show up when you’re unsubscribing or setting up stricter privacy settings.

They can be annoying and worse.

“These manipulative practices can make people pay more than they should for a service or push them to agree to let a company collect an excessive amount of their personal data,” said Thomas Germain, tech editor for Consumer Reports.

Some tech experts say dark patterns disproportionately affect people of color, communities where English is a second language, or where there is less tech education.

To combat and shed light on the issue, Consumer Reports and partner advocates launched the dark patterns tip line, where people can anonymously submit dark patterns they see online.

“The tip line is meant to help educate consumers and help researchers identify trends, spot repeat offenders, and advocate for better policy reforms,” Germain said.

So, what can you do? Germain says learning to recognize different types of dark patterns can help you use the web and apps more safely.

And, to avoid the traps, slow down and examine the language you’re seeing, and don’t assume the default choices are the best ones.

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About the Author:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.