Detecting "dark pattern" practices that can manipulate you to make poor choices online

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Consumer Reports has a warning about some online tactics called "dark patterns" that are being used to trick you into making bad decisions.

It sounds sinister and for good reason. Dark patterns is the term for manipulative practices and confusing language online.

They can do things like make privacy settings intentionally confusing or make it harder for you to end an online subscription; costing you money and in some cases, real harm.

Dark patterns are popping up everywhere, even on mainstream apps and websites. You can often find them when you're registering for a new online account.

One example is maybe you have to click a box to keep the company from bombarding you with emails. Dark patterns can also show up when you're unsubscribing or setting up stricter privacy settings.

And aside from just being annoying, Consumer Reports says these dark patterns can really hurt you.

"These manipulative practices can make people pay more than they should for a service, or push them to agree to let a company collect an excessive amount of their personal data," said Tech Editor Thomas Germain.

Another problem is some experts note dark patterns disproportionately affect people of color, in communities where there may be less education about technology, or where some speak English as a second language.

To combat the issue, Consumer Reports and several partners launched the Dark Patterns Tip Line, where consumers can anonymously submit dark patterns they see online.

"The tip line is meant to help educate consumers and help researchers identify trends, spot repeat offenders, and advocate for better policy reforms," said Germain.

Learning to recognize different types of dark patterns can help you navigate the web and mobile apps more safely.

Consumer Reports said another way to avoid these traps is to slow down and take a moment to examine the language you're seeing, or the buttons you're clicking on and that you shouldn't assume the default choices are the right ones.

For more information:
Dark Patterns Tip Line to Report Manipulative Online Practices
Consumer Reports: How to Spot Manipulative Dark Patterns Online
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