Dark Patterns Banned By EU

Written on 15 September 2014


Dark Patterns are user interfaces (UIs) that are intended to trick people. We’ve probably all seen them, and likely been victims of them. Ever booked a Ryanair flight? You’ll have seen dark patterns, and likely screamed at your screen trying to remove the added insurance and speedy boarding(!) from your basket.

The EU’s updated Consumer Rights Directive bans a portion of the common dark patterns used by e-commerce sites. The main intention of the update to the law is to prevent additional items and services being added to a basket by default. This includes automatically ticking boxes that add services or items, adding “essential” products like insurance, and putting ‘exclusive’ extras like branded mugs in your basket, if they are not free.

While giving options to add insurance, subscriptions or faster shipping charges are still permissible, and if sellers are not able to declare a specific additional cost in advance – say, supplemental shipping charges to remote areas – they still have to declare that these charges exist and may be applied to the order.

The update has been much more carefully thought through than many previous web-related legal updates; say for example the Cookie Directive. Careful analysis of dark patterns used in the real world has been done to ensure that retailers are not prevented from providing added extras for customers who want them, whilst disallowing the kind of insidious, aggressive selling that leaves people out of pocket, with items they neither want or sanctioned and feeling tricked. There are many dark patterns out there, as demonstrated in the diagram below, from wired.com:

nice little image of how to use Dark Patterns

Whilst the annoyance and disappointment you feel at being a victim of dark patterns is a negative experience, which very often means that you will cease to use that vendor or service, it is indicative of how smart UI designers are becoming. As much of the industry points out, this update to the EU Directive will hopefully reduce the use of existing dark patterns, but who knows what methods will be created to take their place?


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