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Dark patterns online: What are they?

Dark patterns are a sneaky form of manipulation that many people fall for without even realizing it.

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Businesses use various tricks called dark patterns to get you to do things you hadn’t originally intended to. It might be a new term for you, but the experience certainly isn’t as you come across dark patterns every day. 

The chances are you have encountered pop-up messages that block the entire website. In many cases, websites expect you to agree to anything in order to close the annoying notification as quickly as possible. A more severe example would be not being able to cancel premium subscriptions due to a complex process. 

Let’s find out more about these sneaky practices. 

The Common Types of Dark Patterns

After you start identifying dark patterns, how often you encounter them will leave you surprised. Even the websites you visit frequently are no exceptions. 

Such incidents are not necessarily evil but might be just a questionable decision regarding the websites’ designs. However, companies can place a graphic or text element like a greyed-out button or a double negative intentionally. Thus, it leaves room for misinterpretation on the users’ part. The most common types of dark patterns you should be cautious of are: 

  • Confusing language or trick questions. Luring you into or driving you away from answering a question or making a choice you hadn’t originally intended to. “Please check this box if you don’t want to receive updates or offers” is a common example. 
  • Countdown timer. Companies frequently promote limited-time offers that actually never expire. It is done to create a sense of urgency to purchase something. 
  • Sneaky costs or products. Sometimes, you might notice bizarre charges made for products or services you had no intention of purchasing.  
  • Scarcity messages. Creating an impression that there’s only limited stock of a particular product available or a high demand for one creates a false appeal of the product.
  • Forced continuity. Amounts being debited from your credit card with no warning after the expiration of a free trial period. A part of this trick is to make canceling the subscription a lengthy and complicated affair. 
  • Confirmshaming. Including language that makes you take a certain action due to shame or discouraging you from opting out of a certain offer. Examples of confirmshaming are “No, thanks, I already know everything about gardening,” or, “No thanks, I don’t want a 10% discount and free assets.”
  • Asymmetric presentation. Highlighting one option prominently while obscuring other options. Users agreeing to share personal data with other options lacking prominence is an example. 

How can you protect yourself? 

You should firstly learn more about how companies might use dark patterns. Here are a few effective strategies to protect yourself. 

1. Taking enough time. It’s your lack of attention that companies exploit to make a profit from dark patterns. You need to slow down and think twice before making any online purchases or making decisions. Before you tick a checkbox, read the accompanying statement carefully. Double-check your shopping cart before you buy and read the terms and conditions thoroughly to form a clear understanding before opting for a subscription. 

2. Be conscious of your rights. California has been the first state to pass a law against dark patterns used in questionable situations. Washington has also passed a similar law. Privacy laws keep evolving, and therefore, you need to keep yourself up to date with the latest changes. 

3. Report instances of dark patterns. Speak up when you see outrageous examples of dark patterns. Expose offenders before the public on social media or report such instances on the Dark Patterns Tip Line recently launched by ConsumerReports. 

Download a VPN for Further Protection

Despite the laws, companies still find ways to access personal data discreetly. Awareness remains your most potent defense.

Thus, thousands of netizens reject third-party cookies or choose providers based on how they deal with data. For instance, certain browsers are better at giving you a more secure online experience. A VPN for browsing is also an option, giving you more anonymity and privacy. Since everything about your internet traffic gets encrypted, entities have fewer opportunities to track you. It also blocks IP-based tracking thanks to the IP-masking feature. 


Dark patterns are a sneaky form of manipulation that many people fall for without even realizing it. We urge you to remain cautious while educating others as well. Follow the strategies we have suggested to protect your privacy and money. 

Have any thoughts on this? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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