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What do you mean Andrew?

Dark patterns in software sales and recommendations refer to manipulative techniques or deceptive design practices used to influence users into making choices that may not be in their best interest. These patterns are often employed to deceive or mislead users, ultimately benefiting the business or seller. Microsoft are currently being called out on this and just recently my own Desktop Outlook package started to open links in The Edge browser which is not my default. its also a faff to change it but, change it I did as Bing is not my search engine of choice.

Amongst these are: No affiliate mentions or telling people that a product on your ‘Best of’ blog post is owned by you.

Sneak into Basket: Adding additional items or services into a user’s shopping cart without their explicit consent or knowledge. This could be done by preselecting options or hiding the “Add to Cart” button. In the WordPress space, this can be either ‘You need this to work with this and let’s install it for you – when you actually don’t.

2. Forced Continuity: Making it difficult for users to cancel or unsubscribe from a service after a free trial or subscription period has ended. This can lead to users unknowingly being charged for services they no longer wish to use. Adobe and many others make it difficult to cancel or even ask for a refund – currently Adobe are under investigation for this practice

3. Roach Motel: Allowing users to sign up for a service easily but making it extremely difficult for them to cancel or delete their account. This tactic aims to lock users into long-term commitments.same as Continuity, I just love the term!

4. Hidden Costs: Displaying misleading pricing information or burying additional fees and charges in fine print. This can result in users paying more than they initially anticipated. Some hosting companies have been called out on this – offering a first year at x amount and then tripling costs on renewal. Lets face it some of this is user error and not reading the terms properly – some is making the small print REALLY small!

5. Misleading Recommendations: Manipulating the presentation of recommended products or services to promote higher-priced options or those with higher profit margins. This can distort users’ perception of what is best for their needs. This can also be said of recommending products where th esite gets a commission or some other reward, The FTC and various governments have this covered – and it’s the reason I am writing this blog post. I noticed a post form the new guy at Woo – James Kemp highlighting that Woo Express recommends various hosts, after looking at this for around 15 minutes, I also noticed that al links are either referral links of some sort or products owned by Automattic – the ultimate owner of WooCommerce.

James Kemp Tweet about the addition of links to other Hosts
Woo Express page without an affiliate disclosure as of 4th of February 2024

After having a look at the links for the Woo Express page, I asked why there was no affiliate disclaimer – hopefully this will either be made more visible or added soon. At the time of writing , no affiliate disclosure was visible.

A list of links that are affiliate links or properties owned by Automattic that appear on the woo express site .

Effectively, we see this a lot in our own space and even more so now in pretty much every software space, be it open source or otherwise. Of course, we all need to make money to survive, innovate and get great process to marketing but,,, it’s nice to know who benefits because well, you like to think that the recommendations come from using the products and services rather than a financial incentive right?

For Instance, I endorse Rocket dot Net on a lot of my sites and I use them on at least 10 sites I host or have recommend them to clients that I maintain and manage their sites for them. and of course, its an affiliate link as per my disclaimer on all sites, including this one.

It’s important to me and others for businesses to follow ethical practices and transparently communicate with users.

Building trust and providing clear, honest information should always be the priority when it comes to software sales and recommendations. I also (kind of) wrote about shady practices in this article

This blog post was written with the help Bertha Ai and the featured image was created using Bertha Ai image generation of which I am the co founder.