Dark Patterns in Web Design

darkpatterns.org defines dark pat­terns as designs “that are not mis­takes but care­fully craf­ted with a solid un­der­stand­ing of hu­man psy­cho­logy”. In oth­er words, the ac­tion in­ten­ded by the user is masked un­der an­other design lay­er. This is il­lus­trated be­low us­ing use-cases from three dif­fer­ent soft­ware ap­plic­a­tions.

1) Dark – MySQL down­load

With en­ter­prise and com­munity edi­tions, MySQL is one of the most pop­ular data­base soft­ware that is used across the world. It can be used for desktop ap­plic­a­tions as well as cloud ap­plic­a­tions. Consider a user who in­tends to down­load MySQL soft­ware from dev.mysql.com/downloads and clicks on a op­er­at­ing system-specific down­load link. This prompts a new page with fo­cus on Login or Signup op­tions. A new user might be driv­en to Signup in or­der to down­load the soft­ware. However, if the user scrolls down there is a ‘No thanks, just start my down­load’ link which prompts the down­load.

Hiding MySQL download link after login/signup options
Hiding MySQL down­load link af­ter login/signup op­tions

2) Darker – WhatsApp’s phone num­ber shar­ing with Facebook

WhatsApp is a pop­ular so­cial net­work mes­saging ap­plic­a­tion that boasts of over 600 mil­lion act­ive users. When WhatsApp was ac­quired by Facebook in 2014 its co-founder Jan Koum prom­ised that there will be no data shar­ing with Facebook. WhatsApp rolled end-to-end en­cryp­tion for mes­sages in April 2016. In late fall, the or­gan­iz­a­tion rolled out a pri­vacy up­date that shares a user’s phone num­ber with Facebook.

Image courtesy: EFF
Image cour­tesy: EFF
Image courtesy: EFF
Image cour­tesy: EFF

The screen that prompts an up­date to Terms and Privacy Policy high­lights an op­tion to Agree to the rol­lout. However, there is an op­tion to read more about the key updates to­wards the end of the screen. Upon click­ing that, an op­tion to un-enroll from shar­ing the Whatsapp ac­count in­form­a­tion with Facebook is re­vealed. It is now com­mon know­ledge that most users do not read Terms and Conditions and just ac­cept an application’s up­date. Facebook lever­ages on this and hides this ac­tion by de­fault. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has lead in spread­ing this aware­ness.

3) Windows 10 – Privacy set­tings

Windows 10 drew a lot of flak for its ques­tion­able de­fault set­tings. Where does the flak ori­gin­ate from? Consider these: it can track your loc­a­tion (Location ser­vices), it sends Microsoft what you write (Getting to know you), in­ab­il­ity to turn off auto­mat­ic Windows up­dates among oth­er set­tings. The Getting to know you fea­ture drew severe cri­ti­cism for send­ing data to the servers in the United States prompt­ing a call in Russia to ban the use of Windows 10 in state agen­cies.

Please refer to the art­icles by LifeHacker and ArsTechnica to know the spe­cific pri­vacy con­cerns and im­plic­a­tions of the dark design pat­terns.

Not a tech-only prob­lem

Dark pat­terns in wide­spread ser­vices are not re­stric­ted only to soft­ware pro­duced by tech­no­logy or­gan­iz­a­tions. Consider the fol­low­ing scen­ari­os. Some of us read through the in­gredi­ents of a bottle of coca-cola, a cook­ie pack­et, a bread pack­et that are avail­able in your loc­al store or an hy­per­mar­ket. How about that bur­ger you buy with a hungry stom­ach in a loc­al bakery or the soda you buy in the fast-food chains? None of these clearly show the im­plic­a­tions of con­sum­ing de­li­cious fatty foods. Research stud­ies have con­sist­ently shown the risks of con­sum­ing high sug­ars. Very few stop to con­sider the im­plic­a­tion of con­sum­ing such foods.

The root of some of the above dark pat­terns is the design of the soft­ware ap­plic­a­tion (MySQL, Whatsapp or Windows 10) and the design of a pack­age (bottle, pack­et) for the rest. In the case of food and bever­ages, a well-meaning cent­ral food and drugs ad­min­is­tra­tion au­thor­ity can re­strict the food on sale de­pend­ing on the in­gredi­ents. Design, when done well, can provide use­ful func­tion­al­ity but has severe im­plic­a­tions when ill-motivated.

Gramener at CapGemini Startup Day

Gramener was among 11 star­tups in­vited to Capgemini’s Startup Day 2016, Bangalore. The event, held on November 21, was a plat­form to ex­hib­it the of­fer­ings by these en­ter­prises be­fore the Capgemini lead­er­ship, their Centre of Excellence teams as well as oth­er em­ploy­ees. Also present were rep­res­ent­at­ives from some of Capgemini’s cli­ents. The oth­er star­tups at the event op­er­ate in areas such as IoT, Blockchain ser­vices, VR, AI, Machine Learning, among oth­ers.

Vinay Acharya at Cap Gemini Startup Day 21 Nov 2016

Gramener’s Chief Sales Officer, Mayank Kapur, made an el­ev­at­or pitch to high­light key in­form­a­tion about the firm and our port­fo­lio. The pres­ti­gi­ous names among Gramener’s cli­en­tele evoked an evid­ent re­spon­se from the audi­ence.

The key part of the event was show­cas­ing our body of work at the booth. The eye-catching video run­ning on our screen played a big part in cap­tur­ing at­ten­tion of the par­ti­cipants. In par­tic­u­lar, Gramener’s Trade Analytics dash­board built for India’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry was very well-received.

Audience in­terest var­ied over a wide spec­trum. Some among the stra­tegic lead­er­ship were look­ing to ex­plore av­en­ues of part­ner­ship with Gramener. They were keen on un­der­stand­ing the pos­sible en­gage­ment mod­els.

On the oth­er hand, func­tion­al unit or cli­ent ac­count heads were look­ing to un­der­stand Gramener’s of­fer­ings, and how Gramener was dif­fer­ent Qlik Sense, Tableau and Spotfire. These dis­cus­sions in­vari­ably grav­it­ated to­wards the rich­ness of visu­als, in­nov­at­ive data rep­res­ent­a­tions, cus­tom­isa­tion, and abil­ity to handle large-scale data.

Another as­pect that drew a pos­it­ive re­spon­se was the fact that Gramener’s solu­tions in­cluded the con­sult­ing ele­ment, and thus would be bet­ter aligned with busi­ness re­quire­ments.

The self-service abil­it­ies of oth­er visu­al­isa­tion products on the mar­ket was an­other fo­cus point; vis­it­ors un­der­stood how that cus­tom­er seg­ment was dif­fer­ent from Gramener’s.

Participants with tech­nic­al lean­ings were curi­ous about the tech­no­logy stack un­der­ly­ing our Gramex pro­duct. Most were sur­prised that this was a home-grown plat­form, and did not make use of R, SAS, SPSS etc. un­der the hood.

An event like this leaves you amazed at the ex­tent to which in­nov­at­ors in India are stretch tech­no­logy, and more im­port­antly, ima­gin­a­tion.

Gramener Boot Camp and Outing

A few times every year, Gramener gets to­geth­er to share what we’ve learnt, and train those new to the fam­ily. Last week, our Boot Camp was con­duc­ted across mul­tiple loc­a­tions for the first time, with the team con­nect­ing from Bangalore, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, and New Jersey.

Gramener Hyderabad team at Boot Camp Nov 2016 Gramener Hyderabad team PMO session at Boot Camp Nov 2016

It was a packed two-day agenda:

  • On ana­lys­is, we covered our ana­lys­is of­fer­ings, Autolysis (our auto­mated ana­lys­is tool), and the Spectrum of Analytics, “From sim­ple pivot­ing to deep learn­ing”.
  • On tech­no­logy, we covered the on­line and self-hosted ser­vices we use for our in­fra­struc­ture, and on hand­ling large-scale data (in memory and in data­bases.)
  • On design, we dis­cussed Responsive Design, Data Infographics, D3 4.0 and its nu­ances, and our new chart­ing lib­rary Gramex Charts.
  • In our quarterly up­date, a key high­light as our Government work on Swacch Bharath, the Ministry of Commerce Trade dash­board, and Padma Awards.
  • Finally, we awar­ded the Knights of Gramener — the “Sparks” award for in­nov­a­tion, the “Design Artist”, the “Magician Analyst”, the “Safe Hands”, the “All Rounder”, and more.

On Saturday, our Hyderabad team headed out to Leonia and the Bangalore team to Guhantara to wind down.

Gramener outing Nov 2016

In all, it was an in­struct­ive and en­ter­tain­ing week for us — but that’s not all. We’d like you to join us as well. In a few months, we’re plan­ning a series of events (pub­lic data pro­jects, hack­a­thons, and train­ings) that are open to our cli­ents and the pub­lic. Keep a watch on this space.