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Shopping websites use dark elements in the interface to influence user decisions

Shopping websites use dark elements in the interface to influence user decisions


In the just released research report, researchers at Princeton University wanted to know how many shopping websites use " dark pattern " in the user interface to trick people into spending more money.

"They're manipulating user decisions to buy things they don't need," Princeton University research assistant Gunes Acar told Business Insider. Like adding a countdown to the interface and telling you there are 5 minutes left to make a decision-this This deliberate sense of urgency is very suspicious. 

Acar and his team have created a tool that can crawl more than 10,000 e-commerce website pages. In the end, they found that more than 1,200 companies used "dark elements" to force customers to buy items or browse the site for more time.


"The number is definitely the lower limit," Acar added, because the crawler paid more attention to the text (such as the descriptive text  such as ,No, thank you, I don't like delicious food after the Cancel Order option), and less involved the operation design.

All in all, the study identified 15 ways that shopping websites manipulate and coerce customers, such as having difficulty cancelling orders, humiliating customers when they try to leave, and false positive reviews.

Many e-commerce sites work with third-party vendors to implement more inducing behavior. The study identified 22 of these suppliers and noted that two of them are still publicly advertising their business.


The New York Times intends to examine their findings. When reporters experienced it for themselves, they found that some websites even created the illusion that a fictional user was buying your products.

The concept of Diablo is not unique to online shopping: scammers use similar technologies to trick people into buying iPhone app subscriptions, and even Facebook has been accused of using Diablo to trick users into sharing their contact information.

Princeton University has not explored the legality of such technologies, but Senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) have already proposed related bills.

On Tuesday morning, the Senate held a hearing to discuss the Decrease in Deceptive Experience for Online Users (DETOUR) Act, which bans sites with more than 100 million monthly users from using these technologies.

"They not only interfere with your judgment, but they also waste your money," Katie McInnis, a policy consultant for Consumer Reports, said at the hearing.

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