Dark Patterns, Web Design, and Free Expression – PEN America

person using laptopPEN America—along with Consumer Reports, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access Now, and others—launched the Dark Patterns Tip Line this week, a website where anyone can share examples of the websites that confuse and coerce us into making decisions or agreeing to terms that we wouldn’t otherwise.

“Dark pattern” is a term that will be new to many outside the web design community, but is infamous within it. Dark patterns are design tactics used by websites and apps to trick or coerce you into doing things you probably would not do otherwise—a form where the “no, thanks” option is tiny gray text and “opt in” option is a big green button; dense legalese that you must accept in order to sign up for a service everyone is using; default settings that cause posts meant just for your friends to be broadcast to the world. Dark patterns finagle access to our address books and/or get us to “agree” to being tracked and listened to by seemingly benign apps. They make it hard to understand who has what access to our lives and the right to sell our data to others. Given companies’ interests in accruing more and more users and more and more data about them, it is no surprise that these malicious designs are everywhere. The Dark Patterns Tip Line is a campaign to raise awareness about dark patterns by letting any of us call