Dark Patterns


I go through Schiphol airport most working days, just as a commuter, don’t get excited. Happily there is free wifi at the airport until I head underground to the train platform. Here’s what the login screen looks like for wifi.


Very simple interface, with clear instructions. But wait! That little box neatly positioned between “accept & connect” and ” terms and conditions” looks like you need to check it, until you read the text next to it. The first time I used the free wifi I checked the box in error and was taken to a purchase screen for premium wifi. I had to turn off wifi and turn it on again to connect to the free access wifi. I wonder how many people pay without realising they didn’t need to.

This is what is known as a dark pattern, a part of user interface designed to trick the user into making a decision that benefits the business. Many cases involve tricking you into opting into subscriptions, or buying extra services.

Computer users scan rather than read content on websites, and we are all used to the standards that have emerged online, we expect to have to tick that we agree to terms and conditions for example. Designers rely on us behaving predictably and design sites using those patterns.

But this predictability can be exploited by designers to generate dark patterns to trick us into buying something we don’t want, or sharing or email address, or preventing us from unsubscribing. In one great example cited on the Dark Patterns site the text explaining how to unsubscribe was in white, on a white background. Sometimes it’s a deceptive check box as in the Schiphol wifi example, so far 11 types of Dark Patterns have been identified.

Many companies are guilty of exploiting dark patterns on their e-commerce sites in deliberate and dodgy attempts to up-sell. Some of the most egregious examples of bait and switch cross into the territory of illegality. Most of the practices aren’t illegal – yet.

As a consumer it’s a good reminder to read carefully, as professionals in the digital world it’s a reminder to treat our customers fairly – the way we’d like to be treated in fact.

Image:  Texture |  Engin Akyurt via pixabay  |  CC0 1.0

5 Essentials for Wifi in Airports

I’ve been through quite a few airports in the last couple of months, and at each one I’ve tested whether wifi was available. In most cases yes, but rarely is it done well – here’s what airports should do.

1 Easy to access

I want to get online within one or two clicks. I want to get to my email to work, or to the internet to entertain myself. Accessing your wifi service should be as easy as you can make it.

Athens wasn’t; I was sitting in front of a sign promising me wifi access, the only network I could find was “Wifi_Business” which gave me a page in Greek, from which I eventually found a link to a page in English which told me I needed to to access “wifi_free”. It took another ten minutes of wandering and testing and fiddling around to get that to work.

2 Free

You don’t charge me for the electricity of the lights or the water in the bathrooms. Don’t charge me for wifi.

Airports in Zurich, Auckland and Amsterdam all wanted me to pay for the service. I’m stuck in your airport for a few hours between flights – access to wifi makes that bearable, possibly even entertaining. It must be worth something to you to have happy transit passengers. Even the reduction in questions to your info desk or check-in staff must translate to a cost benefit for you.

3 Fast

Whatever I’m doing online I don’t want to wait 5 seconds for a page to load. Make sure your signal and bandwidth deliver a fast wifi service.

The airport at Kuala Lumpur offers free wifi, but on both days I was transiting KL it was as slow as a wet week. With 10 second pageloads it was neither useful nor fun to use.

4 Unlimited time

Given that we’re required to check in hours before the flight, and that transit times are 90 minutes or more (on intercontinental routes), don’t limit the time I can be online.

Athens gave me sixty minutes of free wifi – cool. But my transit time was 3 hours.

5 Network your wifi

Visitors will move through the airport, they may have to wait at the check-in desk, they may stop at a cafe after check-in, they may have to wait at the gate. Don’t make them access new wifi hubs or log in again.

At Corfu airport (which delivered easy, free, fast, unlimited wifi) the service is not networked, so as I moved from one hub to another I had to go back to the settings panel on my iPad and select a new wifi server.

Of the airports I’ve visited of late I think Sydney and Hong Kong were the only two who met all the above criteria. What’s the status of wifi at the airports you use? Any good examples of wifi service to share?

image Free Wireless Internet /Wesley Fryer/ CC BY 2.0