Browse Definitions:

dark pattern

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A dark pattern is an element of a manipulative interface designed to trick the user into taking actions that they might not have done freely.

Dark patterns are used in some web pages, popups and programs that include malware, freeware, shareware, freemium offerings and even fully paid software. A typical scenario is the inclusion of additional programs along with a program a user is installing – sometimes referred to as drive-by downloads or barnacles. During the installation,  the programs may be presented to the user as options in a more- or-less visible check box. Typically the additional programs are pre-selected for download. To make it even more likely that the user won’t successfully prevent their download, the developers may make the forms complicated to fill completely and have them set to reselect “optional” programs in the event of an error. In another scenario, the user selects between typical and advanced installations and the “typical” option includes unspecified third-party programs. Should the user continue through installation by simply clicking “next” in the series of windows, they end up with unwanted programs.

Dark patterns are often used even with paid purchases or subscriptions. An additional item may be added automatically by an e-tailer during a purchase, putting the onus on the buyer to see and remove the item from the cart. Subscriptions may be unintentionally selected where one-time purchases for goods, magazines or donations were intended in the same way. This practice is sometimes reinforced by policies like requiring post-delivered letters to unsubscribe.

Dark patterns are used almost as often by established companies as shady enterprises. Microsoft’s GWX (Get Windows 10) update app is a prime example. Microsoft offered Windows 10 freely to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. As time went on, however, Microsoft was presumably not happy with user uptake and started using dark patterns in popups for the offer. Eventually, GWX presented a window with buttons for “upgrade now” and “upgrade later.” The X in the corner of the window, rather than simply closing it, initiated the upgrade. Similarly, Amazon’s website makes closing an account almost impossible and the company continues to send promotional emails after users have unsubscribed.

As one might expect there, is a negative reaction to dark patterns and other elements of manipulative interfaces. E-tailers and software designers and all those who use dark patterns stand the chance of losing a customer permanently over this effort to increase revenue. There is a growing movement among responsible and ethical UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) developers to stop the practice and to shame those who continue to use dark patterns.

This was last updated in June 2016

Continue Reading About dark pattern

Join the conversation

1 comment

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

Oh, man, I hate those things. I've been astonished by how many really reputable download sites have crap that it tries to download on your system.


File Extensions and File Formats

Powered by:


  • risk map (risk heat map)

    A risk map, also known as a risk heat map, is a data visualization tool for communicating specific risks an organization faces. A...

  • internal audit (IA)

    An internal audit (IA) is an organizational initiative to monitor and analyze its own business operations in order to determine ...

  • pure risk (absolute risk)

    Pure risk, also called absolute risk, is a category of threat that is beyond human control and has only one possible outcome if ...


  • cloud ecosystem

    A cloud ecosystem is a complex system of interdependent components that all work together to enable cloud services.

  • cloud services

    Cloud services is an umbrella term that may refer to a variety of resources provided over the internet, or to professional ...

  • uncloud (de-cloud)

    The term uncloud describes the action or process of removing applications and data from a cloud computing platform.


  • federated identity management (FIM)

    Federated identity management (FIM) is an arrangement that can be made among multiple enterprises to let subscribers use the same...

  • cross-site scripting (XSS)

    Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a type of injection security attack in which an attacker injects data, such as a malicious script, ...

  • firewall

    In computing, a firewall is software or firmware that enforces a set of rules about what data packets will be allowed to enter or...




  • bad block

    A bad block is an area of storage media that is no longer reliable for storing and retrieving data because it has been physically...

  • all-flash array (AFA)

    An all-flash array (AFA), also known as a solid-state storage disk system, is an external storage array that uses only flash ...

  • volume manager

    A volume manager is software within an operating system (OS) that controls capacity allocation for storage arrays.


  • hybrid hard disk drive (HDD)

    A hybrid hard disk drive is an electromechanical spinning hard disk that contains some amount of NAND Flash memory.