Dark patterns on the web / Humans + Tech - #42

+ Software that monitors students during tests perpetuates inequality and violates their privacy + Can ageing really be ‘treated’ or ‘cured’? An evolutionary biologist explains


Dark patterns are prevalent all over the internet. They are web and app designs that manipulate or trick you into taking a decision that you normally would not take. Dark patterns employ psychology, cognitive bias, frustration, misdirection, and a host of other tricks to benefit service providers at your expense. Eric Ravenscraft has written an article on how to spot—and avoid—dark patterns on the web [WIRED].

Some examples of dark patterns are online stores that show you messages like “40 people have this in their cart currently,” or “Only 2 items left at this price.” Some stores show a countdown timer for when the deal is going to end to create a sense of urgency to buy the product. In most cases, these are numbers not real. They are random numbers to psychologically manipulate shoppers.

Other types of dark patterns are emails that purposely obscure the unsubscribe link or services that make it extremely difficult to cancel the service but make the sign up a super smooth process.

The term “dark patterns” was coined in 2010 by Harry Brignull, who maintains darkpatterns.org, a website that highlights all the different dark patterns and provides examples for each of them. Brignull has identified 12 different types of dark patterns: Trick Questions, Sneak into Basket, Roach Motel, Privacy Zuckering, Price Comparison Prevention, Misdirection, Hidden Costs, Bait and Switch, Confirmshaming, Disguised Ads, Forced Continuity, and Friend Spam.

The 6-minute video below shows some examples of dark patterns on various websites. It’s good to learn about these patterns and be aware of them. The next time you feel pressured or anxious when you’re on a website or you feel like you have to jump through hoops to perform certain actions, it’s probably a dark pattern manipulating you.

Here is a list of some recent articles that highlight dark patterns used around the web.

+ The subtle tricks shopping sites use to make you spend more [WIRED]

+ Buyer beware! These are the tricks online stores use to get you buying more stuff [CNN]

+ How Facebook and other sites manipulate your privacy choices [WIRED]

+ Dark patterns at scale: Findings from a crawl of 11k shopping websites [arXiv.org]

Software that monitors students during tests perpetuates inequality and violates their privacy

Shea Swauger, writing for MIT Technology Review on the rise in exam proctoring tools due to the pandemic, argues that Universities should stop using them [MIT Technology Review].

I'm a university librarian and I've seen the impacts of these systems up close. My own employer, the University of Colorado Denver, has a contract with Proctorio.

It’s become clear to me that algorithmic proctoring is a modern surveillance technology that reinforces white supremacy, sexism, ableism, and transphobia. The use of these tools is an invasion of students’ privacy and, often, a civil rights violation.


Depending on which company made the software, it will use some combination of machine learning, AI, and biometrics (including facial recognition, facial detection, or eye tracking) to do all of this. The problem is that facial recognition and detection have proven to be racistsexist, and transphobicover, and over, and over again.

In general, technology has a pattern of reinforcing structural oppression like racism and sexism. Now these same biases are showing up in test proctoring software that disproportionately hurts marginalized students.

Shea also writes that there has not been a peer-reviewed or controlled study that convincingly shows that proctoring software effectively detects or prevents cheating.

Can ageing really be ‘treated’ or ‘cured’? An evolutionary biologist explains

The “fountain of youth” has been a human pursuit ever since we gained self-awareness. This eternal pursuit of immortality shows no signs of slowing down. Zachariah Wylde, an evolutionary biologist, talks about the latest advances and techniques being studied worldwide [The Conversation].

From extending the lifespan of a worm by manipulating its biological pathways to using biohacking to the field of epigenetics, Zachariah explains all the latest methods that researchers and individuals are pursuing. He also questions the ethics of extending lifespan.

But forcefully extending the human lifespan by even one decade would present difficult social realities, and we have little insight into what this would mean for us.

I think about death a lot. Not in a morbid way :) — more out of curiosity. Life is only a mystery because death is a mystery. We can only really understand life if we understand death. A lot of our questions, doubts, disputes, and differences will be resolved if we knew for certain what happened after we died. Maybe it is by design that we don’t have that knowledge. If given the option to live forever, I would probably decline it. I’m very curious to find out what follows death.

Quote of the week

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

—Steve Jobs at the Stanford University commencement address in 2005

I agree with Steve. I wish you a brilliant day and life ahead of you :)