Dark Patterns and Online Consumer Vulnerability

53 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2023 Last revised: 22 Dec 2023

See all articles by Amit Zac

Amit Zac

ETH Zürich; University of Amsterdam - University of Amsterdam Faculty of Law

Yun-Chun Huang

Independent

Amédée von Moltke

Independent

Christopher Decker

University of Oxford

Ariel Ezrachi

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: August 22, 2023

Abstract

Dark patterns that manipulate consumer behaviour are now a pervasive feature of digital markets. Depending on the choice architecture utilised, they can affect the perception, behaviour and purchasing patterns of online consumers. While dark patterns have found to be highly effective in influencing consumer behaviour, existing research offers inconclusive insights as to which consumer groups are most susceptible to manipulation and thus in need of protection. Using a novel empirical design, we test the susceptibility of different groups to a range of dark patterns. We find strong evidence that individuals across all groups are susceptible to dark patterns, and only weak evidence that user susceptibility is materially affected by commonly used general proxies for consumer vulnerability (such as income, educational attainment or age). Our conclusions provide empirical support for broadly based consumer protections against the use of dark patterns, such as those contained in the EU’s Digital Services Act. Our study also finds that added friction, in the form of required payment action following successful deployment of dark patterns, reduces their effectiveness. This insight highlights the instances in which dark patterns would be most effective –when no further action is required by the user, or when payment details are already in possession of the online provider.

Keywords: Dark patterns, Choice architecture, Online manipulation, Antitrust law, Competition law, Digital services act

JEL Classification: C50, D12, K21, L26, P46

Suggested Citation

Zac, Amit and Huang, Yun-Chun and von Moltke, Amédée and Decker, Christopher and Ezrachi, Ariel, Dark Patterns and Online Consumer Vulnerability (August 22, 2023). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4547964 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4547964

Amit Zac

ETH Zürich ( email )

LEE G104
Leonhardstrasse 21
Zurich
Switzerland

HOME PAGE: http://https://lawecon.ethz.ch/group/scientific-team/zac.html

University of Amsterdam - University of Amsterdam Faculty of Law ( email )

Postbus 15654
1001 ND
Amsterdam, Noord-Holland 1001 ND
Netherlands

Yun-Chun Huang

Independent ( email )

Amédée Von Moltke

Independent

Christopher Decker

University of Oxford ( email )

Manor Road Building
Manor Road
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3UQ
United Kingdom

Ariel Ezrachi (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

Oxford
United Kingdom

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