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Conceptualizations of user autonomy within the normative evaluation of dark patterns


Dark patterns have received significant attention in literature as interface design practices which undermine users’ autonomy by coercing, misleading or manipulating their decision making and behavior. Individual autonomy has been argued to be one of the normative lenses for the evaluation of dark patterns. However, theoretical perspectives on autonomy have not been sufficiently adapted in literature to identify the ethical concerns raised by dark patterns. The aim of this paper is to conceptualize user autonomy within the context of dark patterns. In this paper, we systematically review 151 dark patterns from 16 taxonomies to understand how dark patterns threaten users’ autonomy. We demonstrate through this analysis that implications for autonomy arise along four dimensions, because autonomy itself can be understood as subsuming several distinguishable concepts. These are agency, freedom of choice, control and independence. We argue that an assessment of whether a design pattern qualifies as ‘dark’ should account for the sense in which autonomy is threatened, as individuals’ rights and expectations of autonomy vary in various contexts and depend upon the interpretation of autonomy. This paper aims to contribute to the development of the normative lens of individual autonomy for the evaluation of dark patterns, as well as for persuasive design more broadly.

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All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this published article. The corpus of analyzed publications and dark pattern taxonomies has been made available in Table 1. The strategy labels assigned to each dark pattern during the thematic analysis have been presented in Table 2.



  2. “dark pattern(s),” “anti-pattern(s),” “deceptive design pattern(s),” “FoMo design(s),” and “manipulative design pattern(s).


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This research was supported by the Prime Minister Doctoral Research Fellowship granted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India.

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This research was conducted as part of the doctoral dissertation of the first author and was supervised by the second author.

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Correspondence to Sanju Ahuja.

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Ahuja, S., Kumar, J. Conceptualizations of user autonomy within the normative evaluation of dark patterns. Ethics Inf Technol 24, 52 (2022).

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