Dark patterns are user interface design elements which harm users but benefit vendors. These harms have led to growing interest from several stakeholders, including policymakers. The authors develop a high-level analytical framework – the dark patterns auditing framework (DPAF) – to support policymaker efforts concerning dark patterns. There are growing links between dark patterns and the behavioral science concept of sludge. Thex examine both literatures, noting several worthwhile similarities and important conceptual differences. Using two ‘sludge audits,’ and the DPAF, the authors examine 14 large online services to provide a high-level review of the user experience of these services. This approach allows policymakers to identify areas of the user 'journey' (dark paths) where sludge/dark patterns persist. For regulators with constrained resources, such an approach more be advantageous when planning more granular analyses. This approach also reveals several important limitations, notably, within some of the tools for sludge auditing which the authors develop, such as the ‘equal clicks principle.’ They discuss these limitations and directions for future research.
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