Dark Patterns

Sometimes things happen and they are just coincidence and sometimes things happen, especially on the internet, and someone explicitly went out of their way to make that happen. You may find this when you are casually browsing a retail site for a pair of shoes and then, through the magic of something called "retargeting," you keep seeing advertisements for that same pair of shoes. At this point, we all see this coming so it doesn't come as a surprise.

Everyone is tracking us everywhere — and sometimes we willingly let them track us by volunteering information about ourselves (i.e. what we all do on Facebook day in and day out). This is okay as long as everyone's complicit; when the product you are using is free, YOU are the product (the selling of information about you to target selling you stuff, in essence).

What I find far more disturbing is a trend toward dark patterns that I'm seeing in the design of products. I define a dark pattern as a product that takes you somewhere that you as a user don't want to go. It's intentionally leading you to something you may not want — usually the end game is to lead you to something that is profitable for the product but not so great for the consumer.

Dark Bouquet by Jen Gallardo
Dark Bouquet by Jen Gallardo

If you can't tell by the wording I used, I'm not a fan of dark patterns.

My most recent example of a dark pattern comes from Apple. It's pretty clear to me that Apple is violently reacting responding to the fact that streaming music has become a threat to the iTunes Music Store model of buying songs individually. If I'm being honest, I do buy far less music because of my Spotify subscription (like, why buy that guilty pleasure Harry Styles record if I can listen to it on loop for a small monthly fee? #amirite?). And, if I'm being really super honest, I find that I'm more prone to buying DRM-free music from Amazon versus buying it off iTunes. That said, Apple — as any company would in their position — is trying to make Apple Music (their streaming music solution) relevant to iPhone owners.

However, this has come at a disadvantage to folks like me who have an extensive and sometimes obscure music collection (that is likely not all on Apple Music) that needs to come along with them on their phones. When Apple Music was first becoming a thing to be reckoned with, the music app on iPhone would force the issue of Apple Music. This was incredibly annoying as I'd get an ad that would only half load or just cause the whole music application to hang due to being in spotty reception on the subway — the one place where it is crucial that I listen to my music in peace. Thankfully, Apple created a setting to disable Apple Music entirely, which solved that issue as far as I can tell.

Then iOS 11 came out. And I decided to sync my phone with my iTunes and update my iPhone 6 with the new OS (in preparation for my purchase of an iPhone 8). Suddenly, the four thousand songs on my phone disappeared. What I later discovered is that there was some default setting to sync my music manually that was no longer checked. I didn't decide to do that. Why would I do that?! This is a dark pattern I fell into because of what I believe is an intentional drive to push users to Apple Music. The end result of this was me sitting with my phone for the better part of an hour re-syncing all the music (and videos, for that matter) that should've still been on there.

Inside, Doorway of Taiwan Pavillion by Jen Gallardo
Inside, Doorway of Taiwan Pavillion by Jen Gallardo

But, the good news is that I was able to fix it — so no need to dwell on the past (Apple, if you're listening, I forgive you!). That said, my Public Service Announcement about all of this has to do with thinking critically. They don't teach this in school but it's important to understand what is motivating this dark alley someone's trying to lead you down so you can better evade the trap! Also, a quick google search of "Dark Patterns" reveals some interesting case studies worth checking out so you don't become a statistic.

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