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  • Writer's pictureSatoshi Yamamoto

Planned inconvenience: Dark Design

Updated: Apr 24

Planned inconvenience Dark Design cyberpunk
Artwork by Annibale Siconolfi

Dark designs in technology refer to the use of deceptive user interfaces that have been intentionally crafted to deceive users, manipulate users into taking actions that are not in their best interest. It often involves exploiting cognitive biases, subconscious impulses, and emotional triggers to gain engagement, profits, or achieve specific outcomes at the expense of users. They are strategies that use psychological tactics and persuasive techniques to gain the upper hand. I will be breaking down some of these strategies in detail.

Psychological manipulation in dark design abuses psychology to influence and control user behavior. This manipulation exploits human emotions, cognitive biases, and pain points to elicit specific actions from users. Fear, guilt, social validation, and tribalism are leveraged against users.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) for example, has contributed to crypto scams such as rug pulls. A rug pull is a scam where creators and developers of a cryptocurrency project use FOMO through media hype via influencers to lure in investors, only to leave with investors' funds, pulling the rug out from under them, leaving the investors with worthless or devalued tokens. One of the biggest cryptocurrency scams is OneCoin, which raised $4 billion only for the founder, Ruja Ignatova, to pull the rug and defraud billions from investors. "Bitcoin killer" is OneCoin's messaging, and its meteoric rise is fueled by FOMO.

Algorithmic Bias refers to algorithms designed to systematically discriminate and disadvantage certain groups of people. Take Donald Trump, for example, the former and potentially future President of the United States (2024). There are various examples of social media censorship measures against Donald Trump and Trump-related content. A shadow ban is essentially a hidden restriction placed on a person by the platform to create limited visibility and no push notifications to prevent engagement.

There is algorithmic amplification and algorithmic suppression based on people's political orientation. One of the most effective algorithmic biases is the search engine rankings, algorithmically designed to discriminate by ranking only negative news of a person on the first page. There are also systematic recommendations on platforms; such algorithms prioritize content that powerfully influences people's political orientation. Foreign actors deploy misinformation and disinformation campaigns to amplify their political agendas and narratives by exploiting algorithmic biases. Targeted messaging and micro-targeting are essentially tools for political interference.

The most common dark design is dark patterns: visual ruses designed to distract users from the consequences of their actions. For example, a website might use enticing colorful buttons with textual cues such as "Free Download" to encourage users to click, only to reveal it as a subscription trickery, perhaps a free trial where entering credit card numbers leads to the need to opt-out or unsubscribe, or be automatically charged on a monthly or yearly basis. There may be other hidden costs such as cancellation fees or the need to contact customer support to cancel, making it exceptionally difficult and inconvenient for users to unsubscribe.

That leads to planned inconvenience. In an increasingly technocratic society with technological advancements in every corner, planned inconvenience will become a dominant strategy. It is not enough to discourage users from canceling subscriptions to increase retention rates and maximize profits. To encourage desired behavior, planned inconvenience will be used to increase efficiency through process optimization, standardizing access, tools, or systems with presets and streamlined user interfaces. Any deviation from such processes will punish the user, making things inconvenient, nudging users towards the path of least resistance. This is similar to clicking through terms and conditions that most people don't really read, facilitated by process optimization.

Policymakers may want to take steps in user interface regulations and raise public awareness by educating citizens about dark designs. The hope is to create a more user-centric, user-friendly, and ethical digital/virtual environment.

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