Reactions to being listed on Darkpatterns.org

DarkPatterns.org screenshot

It’s great to see that the darkpatterns.org wiki has taken on a life of it’s own.

Back in October, a community member submitted Audible.com to darkpatterns.org for using a variant of the Forced Continuity dark pattern. When a user adds monthly billed items to their basket and proceeds into the checkout process, Audible fails to show that the items listed are not a one-off fees, and will in fact reoccur every month. To be clear, this isn’t an allegation, it’s an indisputable fact, backed up with screenshots.

Within 5 days, a spokesperson from audible.com (username fSperring, so I’m guessing that’s Foy Sperring, EVP of Customer Acquisition at Audible) wrote a response on the wiki:


“Audible has always been about the experience of listening – so, we take constructive criticism very seriously. When we heard that some listeners have found our check-out process less than clear, we took it upon ourselves to refine the wording of our offers and clarify our recurring billing practices. We appreciate simonw bringing to our attention the “forced continuity” impression we seem to have made. I will post again once we have completed the changes. We invite the Dark Patterns community along with simonw to review our changes. Open communication is the core of our business and we want to make sure we hear our listeners as well as they hear us.”


It’s really heartening to see an organisation responding so positively. All the ingredients are in place: (i) a statement that they understand the problem, (ii) a statement that they will be revising their UI, and, most importantly, (iii) an invitation to the community to review the UI changes once they are made. The only thing missing is a commitment to a date, but at least they’re going to do another post on the wiki when they do the deployment.

Another positive response has been given from The Ladders in response to their entry on the Bait & Switch page:

Tweet from Jeff Gothelf: "@stephenanderson we're actively working on improving this and adding more value and services #darkpattern"

Though not as detailed as the audible.com response, Jeff Gothelf (Director of UX at TheLadders.com) has gone on record and has used the #darkpatterns hashtag in his tweet demonstrating a real willingness to engage with the community on this issue. Since they use an AgileUX design process at TheLadders.com, it’ll be interesting to see how soon we’ll see changes appear in their interfaces.

Ryanair, on the other hand, went on record with a Metro journalist on September 27th 2010 refering to their dark patterns entry as an “utter load of rubbish“. Disappointing, but hardly surprising.

Is this a problem for the Ryanair brand? Not really – Ryanair makes no claims about delivering a good customer experience. They deliver cheap flights, which, considered alone, they do very successfully. In fact I’ve spoken to some regular Ryanair flyers who say that they actually like the tricky user interface – it allows them, as savvy users, to save money, while naive users pay more. This makes sense, but it isn’t ethical. Lumped into that group of non-savvy users are all kinds of people like silver surfers, people with cognitive impairments, and others who deserve to be treated equally. Dark Patterns are not a fair way to carry out price sensitivity targeting.

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