There are plenty of reasons why you should care.
Here are a few.

How dark patterns harm individuals

Researchers and regulators have established that dark patterns:

  • harm your autonomy: they trick you to decide against your preferences, deny your choice, or make your choice more difficult;
  • harm your welfare by making you lose money: they make you buy more than intended, or pay more for what you wanted to buy. Did you know that “drip pricing” was evidenced to make users spend 21% more than usual?;
  • significantly harm your privacy: they lead you to share more personal data than intended, for example a survey on Australian consumers showed than 1 in 4 consumers shared more personal data owing to dark patterns;
  • create psychological detriment and time loss: they generate frustration, shame and increase our cognitive burden. The European Commission even found that they increase the heart rate, cause anxiety and alertness.

Regulators and

researchers have established at

least 4 different types of

harms to individuals

What does
the law say
on dark patterns?

Significant fines and enforcement actions

are coming

A number of existing laws already apply to dark patterns: consumer laws prohibiting unfair commercial practices such as Section 5 of the FTC Act or the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, data protection regulations like GDPR imposing principles of fairness, transparency, data collection minimisation and informed consent, competition law prohibiting abuse of dominance…

But dark patterns are everywhere and cause severe harms, so regulators around the globe are adopting specific laws to expressly prohibit them:

  • for all business: the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) was amended in 2021 to ban dark patterns that prevents or makes more difficult to change your mind and refuse your personal data being sold.
  • online platforms: the Digital Services Act expressly forbids designing or operating platforms in a way that prevents users to make informed and free choices. Did you know that violations of the DSA could be fined up to 6% of the global turnover of the group concerned?
  • gatekeepers: the Digital Markets Act prohibits gatekeepers to use dark patterns to circumvent their obligations
  • social networks: 

    For example, EpicGames recently settled a complaint before the FTC in a total amount of $520 million for dark patterns charging players for unwanted in-game purchases. The FTC’s signal to the market is clear: get rid of any dark patterns, quickly.

The global legislative framework is shifting towards
clarity, transparency, accessibility and fairness by design

Dark patterns are
also creating
structural risks for
our economies, and
ultimately our
democratic models

How dark patterns affect competition,
trust in brands and markets and more

Did you know that almost 50% of users exposed to scarcity and social proof dark patterns on hotel booking sites distrust these sites? (link to Shaw 2019)
Researchers evidenced that dark patterns decrease consumers’ trust in the brands using them.

Dark patterns have also been found to alter competition:

  • By preventing consumers to compare prices, locking consumers into recurring subscriptions and hampering switching
  • By enabling firms to increase their sales or the volume of personal data they collect without offering better services or products, giving them an undue competitive advantage
  • Dominant firms could use dark patterns to neutralize a competitive threat or extend their dominance in a neighboring market

By impeding consumers’ ability to select the best firms on the merits of their
offerings, dark patterns can distort the competitive process as a whole.

If dark patterns can alter our commercial and social behavior, we also wonder which effects they could have on our democratic systems?

What are the benefits of using

fair patterns?

Research shows that a third of users exposed to dark patterns like scarcity and social proof claims on hotel booking sites expressed contempt and disgust, and nearly 50% distrusted the sites as a result. Clearly, a business strategy based on dark patterns is doomed to fail, simply because users will lose trust in these businesses and go elsewhere – even without mentioning the risks of fines and bad reputation.

Similarly, researchers have shown that any short-term gains an online business gets from dark patterns are likely to be lost in the long term.

Transparency and fairness by design, on the other hand, have been showed to foster trust and long-term customer loyalty.

How to boost sales without dark patterns?

Our clients