A Comparative Study of Dark Patterns Across Mobile and Web Modalities

This paper was accepted at CSCW 2021.


Dark patterns are user interface elements that can influence a person’s behavior against their intentions or best interests. Prior work identified these patterns in websites and mobile apps, but little is known about how the design of platforms might impact dark pattern manifestations and related human vulnerabilities. In this paper, we conduct a comparative study of mobile application, mobile browser, and web browser versions of 105 popular services to investigate variations in dark patterns across modalities. We perform manual tests, identify dark patterns in each service, and examine how they persist or differ by modality. Our findings show that while services can employ some dark patterns equally across modalities, many dark patterns vary between platforms, and that these differences saddle people with inconsistent experiences of autonomy, privacy, and control. We conclude by discussing broader implications for policymakers and practitioners, and provide suggestions for furthering dark patterns research.

ACM Digital Library Link PDF of the paper

Code and data:


  • Section 4.1.1 mentions that the “darkest” services include up to 18 unique dark patterns; in fact the darkest services contain up to 19 as consistent with Table 3, but up to 18 maximum dark patterns in one modality of the service. The sentence in the paper incorrectly includes the term “unique” here.
  • Section 4.1.2 Headspace should be listed with Mangatoon, OnXOffroad, Dreame, and Twitch in the third paragraph, for five of the ten items in Table 5 belonging to the subset of 18 in Table 3.
  • The citation for Section 2.2.4 refers to references 20 and 49, not 46 and 49.