Very early on, during my time as a young support technician nearly twenty years ago, I quickly learned that most people, particularly those who had grown comfortable working with office computers, frequently did not read many of the dialog and alert boxes that popped up on screen, which often-times led to unexpected or even deleterious results. Even if they did read what was presented (or thought they read it), most of the time they could not recall what the dialog box actually said. Despite what you might think, this is actually very human, and not limited to technology use. When performing menial tasks (as many things we do on computers now are), we are prone to learning how to do them as quickly and efficiently as possible, which includes tapping “OK” as quickly as possible to the numerous prompts our devices pose to us throughout the day. You may have already noticed that many online services, apps and websites have taken advantage of this tendency and present patterns of interaction that mimic expected use, but lead to unexpected outcomes, like accidentally downloading and installing antivirus protection that we don’t need, or adding a paid subscription service for an app that was supposed to be free.
I can feel you clicking “Get to the point, Woo…”
While most people have come to expect that websites and online platforms are going to gather demographic information on them and show advertisements that can sometimes seem uncomfortably accurate, they are not as jaded as yours truly to believe that these same “free” services aren’t actively trying to deceive them through misleading and/or confusing interfaces, dialog boxes and obtuse language, but a recently published European study found that this is exactly what they are doing it, and it’s no accident, nor, if you think about it, is it a new practice. McAfee and Adobe have been doing this for years with their Adobe Reader – McAfee Security Center downloads, and I’m pretty sure every single one of my clients has fallen victim to this particularly trap at least once, despite years of warning about the dangers of clicking “OK” before reading the message. Heck, even IT professionals like yours truly have fallen victim to clicking when in a hurry because, we (despite appearances sometimes!) are human too.
At least two US Senators have finally deigned to do something about the alarming increase in deceptive interface practices and have floated new legislation creatively named “Deceptive Experiences to Online User Reduction Act.” The DETOUR Act would give the Federal Trade Commission the legal means to regulate the use of purposefully deceptive or confusing practices to steer users to decisions that may not be in their best interests or subvert expectations, something they have been monitoring in traditional advertising for decades. For now, this legislation is still in committee, but we can take a small measure of hope that this bipartisan bill finds its way to the voting floor soon. Make sure you contact your Congress-critter to let them know that this is important to you.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay