Dark patterns are user interface design choices that benefit an online service by coercing, steering, or deceiving users into making unintended and potentially harmful decisions. We conducted a large-scale study, analyzing ~53K product pages from ~11K shopping websites to characterize and quantify the prevalence of dark patterns.
Dark pattern categories
1. Sneak into Basket
Adding additional products to users’ shopping carts without their consent.
Prevalence: 7 instances across 7 websites.
2. Hidden Costs
Revealing previously undisclosed charges to users right before they make a purchase.
Prevalence: 5 instances across 5 websites.
3. Hidden Subscription
Charging users a recurring fee under the pretense of a one-time fee or a free trial.
Prevalence: 14 instances across 13 websites.
1. Countdown Timer
Indicating to users that a deal or discount will expire using a counting-down timer.
Prevalence: 393 instances across 361 websites.
2. Limited-time Message
Indicating to users that a deal or sale will expire will expire soon without specifying a deadline, thus creating uncertainty.
Prevalence: 88 instances across 84 websites.
Using language and emotion (shame) to steer users away from making a certain choice.
Prevalence: 169 instances across 164 websites.
2. Visual Interference
Using style and visual presentation to steer users to or away from certain choices.
Prevalence: 25 instances across 24 websites.
3. Trick Questions
Using confusing language to steer users into making certain choices.
Prevalence: 32 instances across 32 websites.
4. Pressured Selling
Pre-selecting more expensive variations of a product, or pressuring the user to accept the more expensive variations of a product and related products.
Prevalence: 67 instances across 62 websites.
1. Activity Messages
Informing the user about the activity on the website (e.g., purchases, views, visits).
Prevalence: 313 instances across 264 websites.
2. Testimonials of Uncertain Origin
Testimonials on a product page whose origin is unclear.
Prevalence: 12 instances across 12 websites.
1. Low-stock Message
Indicating to users that limited quantities of a product are available, increasing its desirability.
Prevalence: 632 instances across 581 websites.
2. High-demand Message
Indicating to users that a product is in high-demand and likely to sell out soon, increasing its desirability
Prevalence: 47 instances across 43 websites.
1. Hard to Cancel
Making it easy for the user to sign up for a recurring subscription but cancellation requires emailing or calling customer care.
Prevalence: 31 instances across 31 websites.
1. Forced Enrollment
Coercing users to create accounts or share their information to complete their tasks.
Prevalence: 6 instances across 6 websites.