Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Internet, where big business gets in touch with it's inner sociopath.

  After engaging a little on Twitter yesterday I ended up at a site called darkpatterns.org. There you'll find a half hour video that, while geared to user interface designers is easy enough for a lay person to follow. The video is an examination of the tricks used online by businesses to upsell us and or trick us into unwanted products and/or services.

   The most devious user of this in their presentation is Ryanair (a European discount carrier). As a former customer I was well aware of the numerous permutations they put you through in an effort to shake some change out of your pockets. If you are unfamiliar, the default on nearly every booking selection is for you to buy something. You have to opt out of darn near everything. Mind you all this is a conscious design decision on their part. They are purposeful in their effort to trick you into buying things you do not need. 

   While I understand "business is out to make money" Ryanair's tactics seem positively sinister compared with Southwest Air (US-based discount carrier). While Southwest has plenty of extras on offer for you to click on, but at no point do they attempt to hoodwink you into an inadvertent purchase. The two airlines have somewhat different business models with Ryanair being almost completely al la carte. But that hardly excuses the larceny on their website.

   This leads to my more fundamental question, have we become so jaded by the web that we are now willing to excuse what would have previously been inexcusable behavior?

  Imagine if the behavior of a physical store was the same as their internet site. What if a clerk walked around putting things into your shopping cart based on what you had already selected? Or perhaps added insurance on durable goods without asking first? My suspicion is that you'd be outraged. On the internet, we just seem to accept it. Odd. 

   Moreover in the "life as the Internet" concept, if the cashier rang up your purchase (including the "staff suggested" items) you are almost incapacitated in your ability to return the purchased goods. Would you stand for the same behavior in a live situation as you do in a web situation? If not, why not? Aren't the situations just different implementations of the same transaction?

   Has the web desensitized us to bad behavior? It certainly seems the rules have changed, and for now, many businesses seem to be getting in touch with their inner sociopath. That's reprehensible, but I am even more disgusted at the bleating acquiescence of the masses. 

   From now on, try to follow a simple rule: If you wouldn't tolerate behavior from a bricks and mortar merchant, don't tolerate it on the Internet. We have a voice, but we must open our mouth if it's going to be heard. 

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