Companies which live on advertising, like Facebook, Google or Twitter, thrive for your data. They hire experts to craft tricks to manipulate you into trusting something that doesn’t exist. So you feel safe and start engaging more because more action > more data > more money.

Control paradox to take away your privacy

Although we’re good at privacy in the outside world, the internet might seem like a digital jungle. And major internet companies know how to use these vulnerabilities.

Research led by Dr. Laura Brandimarte and prof. Alessandro Acquisti concluded that technologies with more granular privacy controls may lead you to share more sensitive information.

Experts call it the ‘control paradox’. The more detailed and clumsier security options and user interfaces are, the more willing you are to give up your privacy.

When I started digging in the so-called dark patterns floating on the internet, I was amazed at how hard some websites try to manipulate my decisions. I bet you’d start noticing them too.

Dark patterns: how they work

In 2010 Harry Brignull, a user experience consultant, coined the term ‘dark pattern.’ He studied brands and collected the patterns they use to trick their customers.

Brignull noticed how this type of manipulation make it difficult for you to delete accounts, uncheck boxes that automatically subscribe you to newsletters, etc.

Basically, companies offer an easy way in, but it gets slippery once you decide to get out.

it's a trapDark patterns are created with a deep understanding of psychology and consumer behavior to confuse and to nudge you toward making specific choices.

Some of them might be as old as the internet, like a padlock icon ?. Noticed how often it appears on websites to indicate security?

While other tricks are very mature and almost impossible to notice.

For example, one is called ‘Privacy Zuckering.’ Named after Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg. This means confusing interfaces that trick you into sharing more information than you would typically do.

Moreover, a recent report in Norway analyzed a sample of settings in Facebook, Google and Windows 10 and demonstrated how default settings and dark patterns, techniques and features of interface design meant to manipulate users.

Here are a few takeaways:

  • Misleading wording

When it comes to privacy policies or opt-ins for personal data requests, technology giants have teams of top lawyers to find the right wording. The problem is when reading some of them; you have to have a law degree not to be manipulated.

They use vague descriptions, double negatives or create a false sense that you must give away your data to make your experience better.

Like tricky questions. At first glance, the question might seem to ask one thing, but if you read it more carefully, it proposes an entirely different matter: ‘Would you not want to unsubscribe?’

  • Default settings

Unfortunately, default settings don’t mean you get your privacy by default too – rather a complete opposite. Online services present their default settings in many different ways. Research shows, more than 95% of users never look at or change these settings.

Companies are well aware of such behavior and work hard to gain the most out of it. In fact, it is such a big issue that the European Union decided to regulate it under the GDPR.

  • Dark patterns in UX design

Although most of the online services provide users with privacy options, they hide it well or make it clumsy. Their user experience designers highlight all of the right buttons and make ‘unfriendly-options’ for them barely visible.

However, dark patterns in design are also a problematic trick to recognize: If you feel like you pressed the ‘Accept’ button almost automatically, it is a sign, a red flag to stop and go back.

  • More effort to opt-out

It is safe to assume most of the internet users have at least once encountered a situation when it’s really easy to start using a service or a program but requires a lot of effort and time to opt-out.

Examples vary from unsubscribing from a newsletter to deleting accounts. If you have ever tried to delete your Facebook account, you know how complicated and time-consuming it is.

‘Get me out of this dead end!’

So what do experts say? Is it possible to avoid these tricks? The bad news is – it’s super challenging to stay ahead of the curve. Once you are aware of a trap, boom – there’s a new one you might not notice.

The best thing to do is to educate yourself and don’t just blindly check boxes website offers you. Be careful in judging what benefits you get in return and what data you give away.

Keep in mind your information doesn’t evaporate on the internet. It stays for a ages and goes from hands to hands. The new owners use them for whatever purposes they want.

Spare some time going around programs on your computer and through online services (notably, social media networks) that you use most often and review default settings. It may be a hassle, but if you live outside the EU where such settings are not precisely regulated, you have to protect yourself.

Since language is tricky, especially to a non-native speaker, think to yourself – do you understand what you’ve just read? You have to follow every sentence before giving your consent for a company to use your data. If you have a sense that something is not right, it probably is. After all, it is your privacy.

What dark patterns do you notice more often? Share your thoughts in the comments!