A taxonomy of unethical technology design patterns

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I don’t see what’s unethical here.

Hijack #1: If You Control the Menu, You Control the Choices

Yea, so? What’s the alternative? To somehow not control the menu of your own website? It’s not even a whiz-bang internet phenomenon. It’s been true since the birth of writing, at least. Shakespeare told you what to think about Prince Hal by including Falstaff in the cast, and the audience does not get to kick him out or have Henry act more like a gentleman. He controlled the dialogue, absolutely, and aren’t you glad?


These are user interface patterns, not design patterns.


The point of a taxonomy is to develop taxons; the article does not cast judgement per se, but rather create a framework by which these things can be discussed.


Isn’t user interface a core design component?

A program can be whiz-bang awesome, but if you have to interface with it via an undocumented command line that’s a user interface issue that is a core design problem.

Emacs and VIM users will now dissent. :slight_smile:


What about posting articles with intentionally inaccurate/inflammatory/clickbaity titles to increase click through traffic, of people clicking through to negate/correct/counter? That is a pretty unethical pattern that i encounter frequently on the internet.


No. Design patterns are things like MVC or test driven design. The unethical functional practices discussed here are perfectly legitimate UI flows. There is no shortage of unethical functions in software. Many far worse than these examples. Consider predator drones, etc.


I f**king hate linkedin b/c of their sleazy tactics


Undocumented? Undocumented?

$ cat /usr/share/vim/vim74/doc/* | wc
154823 892782 6078358


Apologies, I should have phrased that better. I meant that a poorly documented tool that can only be accessed from the command line would have design problems. I should have acknowledged that emacs and VIM are extensively documented, if you can find it. :slight_smile:


so this actually assumes incompetence is malice, which I’m fine with.


The article is a taxonomy of “how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities”, which is casting judgement. It also ends with a summary and “how we can fix this”. The writer also explicitly states that these are intentional and well researched psychological tools to make you do the things that companies want you to do.


Ha! More current.

I actually have this one tacked up in my cubicle at work:


Does anyone else worry that their parenting style is becoming a sort of applied marketing?


That is just such an insightful comment that it deserves to be available as a poster. I need to go away and think some more about it.

Baby and Child Care by Dr. Spock, PhD, MBA, Professor of Early Years Marketing at Harvard Business School. How to get buy-in from your child and retain loyalty in the face of competing interests.


Well… If you want to get super reductive, then we can make a case for all communication being various forms of mind control…


To an extent, but I was thinking more of our goals as parents and what effective parenting would look like (effective at what goal?). Psychological techniques aren’t necessarily bad and you can even use them on yourself to augment your willpower, but it can be easy to favour techniques that mask unfavourable choices and teach kids learned helplessness and compliance rather than independent thought, even if there’s no explicit coercion involved.

There’s an extent to which any responsible technique has to involve pressure to conform to certain standards and make choices that may not be in the child’s immediate interests, but my long term wish that the children become active participants who challenge assumptions and look beyond obvious choices clashes with the short term need to get them properly feed, dressed in appropriate clothes and at school on time. And they’re so easy to manipulate that direct confrontation often isn’t even the quickest or easiest way to get them to do what I want.


Psychological techniques can be by far the best option. Physical punishment just perpetuates violence through the generations. But, as you say in your post, what matters is how they are used.

I don’t think I was a particularly good parent and it didn’t help that one set of grandparents wasn’t around and the other was dysfunctional to the degree the children had to be kept away from them, so there wasn’t that to draw on. But applying psychology with the test of “is this for the child’s benefit, or mine” seems to have had moderate success.

Because Microsoft (for instance) is twisting psychology to get people to install Windows 10, doesn’t invalidate psychology as a discipline. It all comes down to whose interests are being considered.


by framing a subset of possible actions as a comprehensive-seeming menu

That’s one of my pet peeves. Even respectable programs like Microsoft Office do this. The menu shows only the most frequently used items by default, though you can get the entire menu by clicking on the “…” item.

I really enjoyed this article, very interesting and illuminating (though I thought some of the normative suggestions were a bit naive, like an FDA for the friction of choices). Then I got to the end of the article…