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Web deceit gets trickier

We’ve already highlighted some of the dodgy techniques websites use to con customers.

Shamefully, not only have many websites continued to use them (and, in some cases, pass them off as perfectly OK), they’ve started to use even sneakier programs.

Have you signed up for a newsletter or a service and then found it extremely difficult and time-consuming to get out of it? This is known as a ‘roach motel’.

For example, if you want to cancel or temporarily deactivate your Facebook account, it takes a long time to do so, after many steps and plenty of aggressive, manipulative encouragement to reconsider. How about a box that says ‘Use this link if you want to deactivate’?

Social media is one thing – it’s another matter when your money is at stake. Banks, insurance firms, pension companies and gaming sites also use such trickery.

We’ve mentioned the sneakiness of game producers at length before now. Rather than curbing their behaviour, many of them have got sneakier.

User Testing journalist Jennifer Winter recently coined the phrase ‘misdirection’ to refer to deceit on mobile-phone games.

“Players are trained to associate the green buttons with game play,” Winter wrote. 

“But if you lost the game a screen appeared inviting you to buy a move – and the ‘buy move’ button was also a long green tab. Guess how many times I've tapped the green button. I actually have no idea because I've lost count at this point.”

Harry Brignull, whose website lists many of the tricks employed by companies looking to dupe or cajole their customers, refers to such tactics as ‘dark patterns’. That’s his description for websites that use ‘a user interface that has been carefully crafted to trick users into doing things’.

A fortnight ago, Microsoft were forced to backtrack on an attempt to trick their customers. The company introduced a pop-up encouraging Windows users to upgrade to Windows 10. By clicking the box which would normally mean the user was dismissing the offer, users were unwittingly accepting the upgrade.

After ‘customer research’ (otherwise known as ‘serious flak’) Microsoft relented and agreed to offer an additional opportunity to disregard the offer. But why not simply do things right first time around?

“Wherever there are organisations that value short-term gains over lasting customer relationships, there will be designers who implement dark patterns in an attempt to trick users into taking actions they wouldn't normally want to take,” suggests User Testing’s Hannah Alvarez.

“I believe some marketers and executives who don't have a background in user-centred design will implement dark patterns without realising they're doing so – they're just trying to get quick results.”

It would be optimistic to assume such practices won’t become ever sneakier in the short term. Surely governments need to introduce serious punishments for those using such methods?

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