Online shopping sites uses 'dark patterns' techniques

Researchers at Princeton released a new study on how many online shopping sites use coercive so-called “dark pattern” techniques to trick people into spending more money.

“This is manipulating users into making decisions they wouldn’t otherwise make and buying stuff they don’t need,” Gunes Acar, a research associate.

Acar and his team created a tool that crawled over 10,000 e-commerce sites. Ultimately, they found that more than 1,200 use “dark pattern” techniques to coerce customers into buying items or spending more time on their sites.

“This is definitely a lower limit,” Acar added, since the tool focused more on text (like having the “cancel order” option say something like “no thanks, I don’t like delicious food,” on a delivery website, for example) and less on manipulative design.

Many online shopping sites work with third-party vendors to implement more manipulative designs. The study identified 22 of these vendors, noting two of them openly advertise their techniques.

The Princeton study didn’t focus on whether or not these techniques are working, but legislation introduced by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) indicates that the concept is being taken seriously on Capitol Hill.

“These not only undermine the choices that are available to you on these platforms, but they also cost you money,” said Katie McInnis, policy counsel at Consumer Reports.