Donald Trump and his allies relied on disinformation to build support for the former US president ahead of the last election. Meanwhile, his campaign turned to deceptive design to increase donations from unsuspecting Americans, the New York Times Reports.
Last September, the newspaper revealed, when the Trump campaign faced a cash crunch, it relied on its supporters to turn their one-time donations into monthly and, eventually, weekly contributions. The problem is, the campaign website didn’t ask people to opt–in to this improved donation schedule, he asked them to opt out. Trump supporters did not find out until later that WinRed, the for-profit company that processed Trump campaign payments, was withdrawing hundreds or thousands from their bank accounts. Shane Goldmacher of The Times writes:
The tactic has trapped dozens of unsuspecting Trump followers – retirees, military veterans, nurses and even senior political agents. Soon banks and credit card companies were inundated with fraud complaints from the president’s own supporters over donations they did not intend to make, sometimes in the thousands of dollars.
It’s easy to see how so many have been misled. They hadn’t noticed that inside a yellow box filled with jaw-dropping announcements (many shouting ALL CAPITALS) about Trump’s ruling vote for four more years, there was a single line at the bottom in a smaller, bold-free text that read, “Make this a weekly recurring donation until 3/11.” The box where one should normally click to accept was pre-checked. Likewise, a separate box was introduced closer to Election Day which doubled donations and was dubbed a “Money bomb”.
Many people requested and received refunds when they recognized what was going on, but some also paid bank charges for their overdraft accounts, according to the Times. To the duped, this may have seemed like a blatant scam, but technically it wasn’t illegal at all. What Trump and WinRed did was just spectacularly unethical: they used what is called dark patterns, or dark UX (UX is short for user experience) to set up a proven trap for subscribers.
The ‘dark patterns’ that trap buyers are surprisingly common
Harry brignull the UK-based user experience consultant who coined the term dark patterns in 2010 to cover all the ways businesses can use colors, images, design that is intentionally hard to navigate and false urgency said of the subject of the pre-checked box: “It should be in the textbooks what you shouldn’t do.”
Dark patterns are not unique to political fundraising. Analysis from Princeton University and the University of Chicago have shown that the same types of techniques used by the Trump campaign can be found on 11% of all shopping websites, as Quartz reported in 2019.
These visual sleight of hand can include limited-time offers and countdown timers that elicit a sense of FOMO. They could also involve alerts on someone else looking at the same piece or buying the same pair of shoes. Gasp!
“Alerts are a type of dark pattern that hijacks our normal tendency to weigh the actions and opinions of others when making decisions,” Quartz reporters Marc Bain and Amanda Shendruck wrote at the time. “Customer testimonials do the same and can be seen as a dark pattern if their source is unclear. Customers who seem to steal your bargain find you aren’t always real people, they cautioned.
By now, most savvy shoppers know to watch out for free trials that turn into expensive subscriptions due to the fine print you didn’t read in your haste to get through your purchase. Brignull calls this type of model “forced continuity. “
His website explains that “in some cases it’s even worse by making it difficult to cancel the membership,” which is actually a separate form of manipulation that Brignull calls a “roach motel” because it’s easy to get over. to be attracted, but impossible to leave. (Have you ever tried to cancel your Amazon subscription?)
Other dark patterns may slip purchases into your cart. Where there is “confirm shame”, Which Brignull describes on his site as“ the act of making the user feel guilty so that he chooses something. The opt-out option is worded in a way that shames the user for complying.
As Recode explained in a recent room on the dark patterns – appropriately posted on April 1 – sometimes the deception lurks right where you think you’ll find the freedom of an ad or product, such as when the X in the top corner Right of a box is so small that you can’t see it, or designed so that when you click on it, you accidentally click on the ad itself.
Will the laws catch up with web designers who intentionally cheat on users?
Another form of deceptive user experience is getting users to share their private information more widely than they realize. In the United States, federal lawmakers on both sides have presented bills to limit this category of dark patterns in the past. The FTC, which would enforce such regulation, is also investigating dark trends.
Any further attempts to ban the practices will be complicated, however, due to gray areas, Jennifer King, privacy and data policy officer at the Institute of Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, told Recode. Stanford University. These are “the cases where the users of a technology are constrained in such a way that they cannot exercise complete autonomy, but perhaps they do not undergo complete manipulation, or perhaps they are. constrained but with a light touch ”.
In Europe, a consumer rights directive is already preventing businesses from the types of pre-ticked boxes used by the Trump campaign, Goldmacher notes in The Times. Advertisers cannot force customers to sign up by making it the default choice. California also approved regulations last month which prohibit dark patterns which have “the substantial effect of subverting or hindering a consumer’s choice to opt out”.