June 08, 2022

Duped by design – Manipulative online design: Dark patterns in Australia

This report looks closely at ten dark patterns common in Australia today, presents the Australian consumer experience of dark patterns and outlines what next steps could look like for businesses, regulators and government to help mitigate consumer harm.

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The consumer experience of dark patterns

Deceptive designs range from those that are ubiquitous and frustrating for consumers to those that are misleading and deceptive and can lead to significant consumer harm. We surveyed 2,000 Australians to explore the prevalence and impact of dark patterns in Australia.

Key findings

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83 % of Australians have experienced one or more negative consequences as a result of a website or app using design features aimed at influencing their behaviour.

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58 % of Australians are aware that organisations use specific types of design features to try and influence them to behave in a certain way.

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Younger consumers were 65% more likely to spend more than they intended to as a result of dark patterns.

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30% of Australians stopped using the website or app (either temporarily or permanently) as a result of dark patterns used by the business.

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Younger consumers (aged 18 to 28 years) were more likely to be negatively impacted by dark patterns than any other age group.

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‘Manipulative’ or ‘deceptive’ were in the top three responses to 9 out of 10 dark patterns tested with Australians consumers.

1 in 4

Dark patterns led to 1 in 4 Australians sharing more personal information than they wanted to.

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Other key findings

Impact on emotional wellbeing

  • 40% felt annoyed when using a website or app
  • 28% felt manipulated

Financial impact

  • 1 in 5 Australians spent more than they intended (20%)
  • Almost 1 in 6 Australians felt pressured into buying something (17%)
  • Nearly 1 in 10 Australians accidentally bought something (9%)

Loss of control over personal information

  • More than 1 in 4 Australians created an account online they didn’t want to (29%)
  • More than 1 in 4 Australians accidentally signed up to something (29%)
  • 1 in 4 Australians shared more personal information than they wanted to (25%)

Cost to businesses

  • Almost 1 in 3 Australians stopped using the website or app (either temporarily or permanently (30%)
  • Almost 1 in 6 Australians had their trust in the organisation undermined (18%)
  • More than 1 in 4 Australians thought negatively of the organisation whose website/app it was (27%)

Dark patterns researched by CPRC

We looked into ten forms of deceptive designs (dark patterns) in our report:

  • Hidden costs – consumers are unaware or forced to pay more for a product than they initially perceived via pre-selected add-ons being embedded close to the final stage of payment.
  • Disguised ads – advertising disguised as regular content that trick you into clicking on them.
  • Trick question – where questions on an online form use confusing language making it difficult to clearly know how to opt-in or opt-out of an option or service.
  • Scarcity cues – creating an element of scarcity that may/may not be accurate (e.g. low stock message or high-in demand message).
    Activity notifications – information that tells users what other people are doing on the website or app (e.g. Customer from South Melbourne just bought XYZ dishwasher).
  • Confirmshaming – use of language which suggests a certain choice is shameful (e.g. two buttons: 1. Yes, sign me up for 10% discount | 2. No thanks, I like paying more)
  • Hotel California (Forced continuity) – inability or difficulty in cancelling an online subscription, especially after a free trial.
  • False hierarchy – one choice or option is made to stand out over others through size, placement or colour.
  • Redirection/nagging – continuously being moved away from the task that a consumer is wanting to complete (e.g. pop-ups inviting to join email subscription service).
  • Data-grab – being asked for more personal information than what is needed to access a product/service.

Addressing the harms

Jurisdictions worldwide are taking action on dark patterns and it’s time Australia did too. CPRC urges Government to implement wider whole of economy reforms that adequately protect consumers including:

  • introducing an unfair trading prohibition
  • strengthening unfair contract terms provisions
  • reforming the Privacy Act to make businesses more accountable when they use consumer data.

The report also outlines how regulators can reimagine their traditional enforcement models and how businesses can take a more consumer-centric approach to their online presence.

It will require a collective effort to turn the tide away from a digital economy that preys and profits on people’s vulnerabilities.

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