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Columnist Crawford Hollingworth Eyes wide open I Many consumers are increasingly vulnerable, given the cost-ofhave written previously about the need to use behavioural living crisis. They are desperate for deals and value, and financial science carefully; to not abuse its power to influence behaviour. stress may lead to poor judgement and choices. But now the darker side of behavioural science the world of There are new types of dark patterns and sludge: some apply dark patterns and sludge is becoming increasingly existing techniques to new online contexts for example, in voice sophisticated and we need to work harder, as researchers, to identify assistants and smart devices such as smart TVs and speakers; others and call out these dark patterns. leverage existing techniques, such as pressure selling, in new ways. Thirteen years ago, user experience (UX) consultant Harry Research by Johanna Gunawan and her colleagues, published this Brignull sat at his kitchen table to collect examples of what he called year, on smart devices or the internet of things, analysed 57 dark patterns deceptive or manipulative online techniques that different smart devices such as thermostats, doorbells, fridges, TVs create such levels of friction that it obstructs our best efforts to do and speakers and found that the average device had 20 instances of something thats in our interest, such as cancelling an unneeded dark patterns; most had at least three. One smart TV had 60! One subscription, making a payment, completing an application form, or driver of so many dark patterns was the limited interfaces of the selecting a product or service that best meets our needs. devices meaning a user might have little control over what they Dark patterns, also known as sludge, are increasingly common. could control. EU researchers recently found that 40% of Pressure-selling techniques that leverage 399 websites they surveyed contained feelings of scarcity and urgency have manipulative practices from fake The effects on the consumer become ubiquitous, but new types are countdown timers to pressure sell and can include psychological evolving to catch consumers out. We are all hidden information, to directing consumers impacts, such as frustration, used to being told there is only one left to to suboptimal choices. Its everywhere. anger, and even shame encourage us to buy but how would you Not only is it more ubiquitous, but it is react if you received an email, supposedly evolving rapidly and becoming more from a chief executive, telling you that sophisticated. Better metrics, easier stock of a product you recently browsed was running low and no tracking and the ability to do A/B testing have all meant more was expected in, so you might be wise to purchase now? organisations can more easily apply and test dark patterns. We are also seeing upselling techniques that try to steer us into Technology is always developing, which allows the more buying a more lucrative version of a product or service. For example, unscrupulous to leverage dark patterns through creative UX design while monthly subscriptions to products and services have become or even more invasive tracking. With more and more of our lives ubiquitous, defaulting the consumer to a subscription rather than a online, we are exposed to it constantly. one-time purchase could be deemed manipulative and even deceptive. Large and small online retailers fall foul of this. When The widening and deepening impacts of sludge combined with one-click ordering, there is also a danger that Sludge isnt always intentional. Sometimes, a product or service consumers might purchase a subscription without realising. provider might genuinely believe they are offering something in a Additionally, there have been cases where a premium version of a way that matches consumer needs. Other times, there might be service has been added to the consumers basket automatically, or by unintentional friction caused by poor design or clunky technology default. We have seen this for cross-channel ferry bookings. that makes a consumer journey more difficult than it needs to be. The effects on the consumer are the same, however, and can include physical impacts such as loss of time and money, as well as Who is steering? being saddled with suboptimal products and services and Researchers are also becoming concerned about hypernudging a psychological impacts, such as frustration, anger, and even shame. predictive, dynamic system of nudges in an online environment. They 46 Impact ISSUE 43 2023_pp46-47 Crawford.indd 46 18/09/2023 18:46