Avoid dark patterns in digital marketing

1. Read questions and opt-in/out option text carefully.

A classic trick question manipulation uses positive wording where you’d expect negative, or vice versa, to fool a user into signing up for something they don’t want.

2. Check the items in your cart before you check out.

Retailers sometimes use the sneak into basket pattern, with an easy-to-miss opt-out option to add items you didn’t choose to your cart.

3. Read the fine print and cancellation terms before signing up to a trial or paid subscription.

The roach motel trap makes it easy to sign up but very difficult to cancel a subscription. The forced continuity tactic usually involves a free trial subscription that includes an automatic and silent switch to a paid subscription.

4. Assume that retailers and social media sites will sell on your private information, and be careful of what you give them.

Privacy Zuckering is the name given to the common practice of selling customer information, including purchasing patterns mined from store cards, to data brokers.

5. Use websites that offer clear unit pricing on their items so that you can easily compare prices with other retailers.

Some retailers use a price comparison prevention tactic where popular items are only available in bundles, or similar products are presented with different price breakdowns. For example, onions per pound compared to a bag of 10 onions with no listed weight.

6. Watch the price as you click through any form or multi-page checkout process.

Some retailers use misdirection to trick you into including an option you don’t want. For example, many airlines pre-tick the flight insurance option. Others add hidden costs. For example, taxes or delivery at the very last stage, when you’re most likely to be emotionally invested.

7. If you seem to be following a clear path and find yourself looking at something unexpected, stop and reconsider.

Some companies use a bait and switch manipulation that offers one thing but delivers another. For example, if you click on the X icon to close an offer, and it takes you to a signup page instead of removing the offer.

8. Stay aware of your emotions when reading calls to action, and leave if you're feeling bad.

Confirmshaming is a tactic where a business tries to shame a user into agreeing to something they don’t want. For example, if the call to action on a website is to sign up for marketing newsletters and the decline option says, No, I don’t need to know the latest trends, don’t fall into the trap of signing up.

9. Read the text around the most obvious links or buttons.

Disguised ads look like they’d lead to the information or download that you’re looking for, but a careful check of the text nearby usually shows that they won’t. For example, the Google Ads shown here with a different background color are just ads and don’t provide more content.

10. Be careful with providing third-party access to your email and social media accounts.