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Analyzing Manipulative Subscription and Cancellation Flows in News Websites


Core Concepts
Design features of news websites make canceling subscriptions difficult, highlighting the need for regulation.
Abstract
The study analyzes subscription and cancellation flows of news websites in different countries, revealing intentional barriers to canceling subscriptions. Regulatory changes aim to protect consumers from unfair practices related to subscriptions. Dark patterns like Roach Motel are prevalent, with varying degrees across jurisdictions. The dataset collected serves as a resource for researchers studying subscription-based services.
Stats
Amazon's Prime cancellation process requires a minimum of six clicks. One-third of Americans pay for unused subscriptions. Consumers spend 2.5x more than they initially think on subscriptions. The 'assholedesign' subreddit has 3 million members discussing manipulative designs. The EU Digital Services Act defines and prohibits dark patterns.
Quotes
"Making the cancellation process intentionally difficult is recognized as a dark pattern called Roach Motel." "New laws aim to ensure consumers can easily exit contracts without unnecessary steps."

Key Insights Distilled From

by Ashl... at arxiv.org 03-15-2024

https://arxiv.org/pdf/2309.17145.pdf
Staying at the Roach Motel

Deeper Inquiries

How do dark patterns impact user decision-making beyond subscriptions?

Dark patterns can have a significant impact on user decision-making beyond just subscriptions. These manipulative design tactics can be found in various online services and websites, influencing users to make choices that may not align with their best interests. For example, dark patterns can affect e-commerce platforms by tricking users into making impulse purchases or signing up for unnecessary add-ons. In social media platforms, dark patterns may encourage excessive engagement by creating addictive features like endless scrolling or notifications. Overall, these tactics exploit cognitive biases and nudges to manipulate user behavior in ways that benefit the service provider rather than the user.

What are potential drawbacks of overly strict regulations on subscription services?

While regulations are essential for protecting consumers from deceptive practices, there can be potential drawbacks to overly strict regulations on subscription services. One drawback is the possibility of stifling innovation and creativity in designing subscription models. If regulations become too rigid, companies may struggle to experiment with new pricing structures or features that could benefit both the business and the consumer. Another drawback is the challenge of enforcement and compliance costs for businesses. Overly strict regulations may require extensive resources for monitoring and ensuring adherence to complex rules, particularly for smaller businesses or startups. Additionally, stringent regulations could lead to a lack of flexibility in responding to market changes or consumer preferences. Businesses may find it challenging to adapt their subscription offerings quickly if they are bound by rigid regulatory requirements.

How can design principles be used to counteract manipulative tactics in online services?

Design principles play a crucial role in counteracting manipulative tactics in online services by promoting ethical design practices that prioritize transparency, usability, and user empowerment. Here are some ways design principles can help mitigate manipulative tactics: Transparency: Designers should ensure clear communication about terms and conditions related to subscriptions upfront so users understand what they are signing up for. User Control: Providing easy-to-find options for managing subscriptions (such as cancellation buttons) empowers users to make informed decisions about their memberships. Simplicity: Streamlining the subscription process without unnecessary steps or distractions reduces opportunities for manipulation. Ethical Defaults: Setting default options that prioritize user privacy and financial well-being helps prevent unintentional sign-ups or recurring charges. 5Feedback Mechanisms: Incorporating feedback loops where users can report suspicious practices helps identify and address any potential dark patterns proactively. By incorporating these design principles into product development processes, designers can create more trustworthy experiences that prioritize user welfare over deceptive strategies commonly associated with dark patterns."
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