Stopping the Dark Patterns of Booking Sites Bookmark

In one part of my latest talk “The Benefits of Ethical Design” I discuss so-called dark patterns and one example is about hotel booking sites. I never liked the approach of what I call pressure-triggers. Even though they might work for those who use them, they do seem stupid in one way and quite constructed in another.

Screenshot of part of a booking site displaying a hotel deal
A hotel property listing displaying prices and pressure triggers on a booking site

Each time after I have given the talk, conference attendees approached me to further speak about it. To my surprise, some thanked me that I had recognised and included these patterns in the talk, because they suffer from an anxiety disorder and can very much relate. The important point of this section of the talk concerning ethics is that people who suffer from anxiety disorders can feel a lot of pressure. They might have a difficult time using these sites, which could result in a panic attack. For me - and very likely for most of us - such patterns are annoying. But it has been very insightful and important to hear this feedback which helped me better understand the effects and what these pattern can cause. Considering that every site should be usable by everyone, this indeed is an ethical no-go.

In New York another attendee approached me and “confessed” that he works for such a booking site. He was quite surprised to hear what effect these patterns can have and wanted to bring it up and discuss it with his team. (Unfortunately we didn’t exchange contacts, so if you are reading this, please get in touch and let me know how it went.)

Yesterday a friend sent me this article, in which this topic - for a different reason - seems to now become a problem for some. Regulators in the UK have identified that these practices could prevent customers finding the best deals.

The Competition and Markets Authority is clamping down on websites including Expedia, and over practices that give a false impression of a hotel’s popularity, with claims such as “one room left at this price” and “booked four times in the last 24 hours”.
The websites have a deadline of 1 September to make the changes or face further action. Not all firms engaged in all of the dubious practices but all have agreed to abide by all the principles set out by the CMA.

It’s good to see that the CMA is looking into this, but unfortunately there is no mention of accessibility. Good deals are nice, but it would be important to also recognize these patterns as dark from an accessibility point of view, since they render these sites unusable for some users.

I guess time will tell if other countries will follow suit and make this a new “standard” or if the companies will roll this out globally. As with many things, the progress likely will be baby steps forward.

You can find the full article on The Guardian.