Type JournalArticle
Date 2019-11-07
Volume 3
Tags dark patterns
Journal Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction

Dark Patterns at Scale: Findings from a Crawl of 11K Shopping Websites

The authors categorized 1818 instances of dark patterns on shopping websites into 15 types of dark patterns. Although shopping websites are the subject of this study, dark patterns can appear elsewhere, e.g. in games.

The categories:

  • Sneaking
    • Sneak into Basket
    • Hidden Costs
    • Hidden Subscription
  • Urgency
    • Countdown Timer
    • Limited-time Message
  • Misdirection
    • Confirmshaming
    • Visual Interference
    • Trick Questions
    • Pressured Selling
  • Social Proof
    • Activity Message
    • Testimonials
  • Scarcity
    • Low-stock Message
    • High-demand Message
  • Obstruction
    • Hard to Cancel
  • Forced Action
    • Forced Enrollment


Dark patterns are user interface design choices that benefit an online service by coercing, steering, or deceiving users into making unintended and potentially harmful decisions. We present automated techniques that enable experts to identify dark patterns on a large set of websites. Using these techniques, we study shopping websites, which often use dark patterns to influence users into making more purchases or disclosing more information than they would otherwise. Analyzing ~53K product pages from ~11K shopping websites, we discover 1,818 dark pattern instances, together representing 15 types and 7 broader categories. We examine these dark patterns for deceptive practices, and find 183 websites that engage in such practices. We also uncover 22 third-party entities that offer dark patterns as a turnkey solution. Finally, we develop a taxonomy of dark pattern characteristics that describes the underlying influence of the dark patterns and their potential harm on user decision-making. Based on our findings, we make recommendations for stakeholders including researchers and regulators to study, mitigate, and minimize the use of these patterns.

Name Role
Arunesh Mathur Author
Arvind Narayanan Author
Elena Lucherini Author
Gunes Acar Author
Jonathan Mayer Author
Marshini Chetty Author
Michael J. Friedman Author