Nowadays, users are increasingly cautious of online and email scams, phishing attacks, and data breaches. This article provides food for thought for designers and developers to avoid crossing the ethical line to the dark side of persuasion.

A few months ago, the world was shocked to learn that Cambridge Analytica had improperly used data from a harmless looking personality quiz on Facebook to profile and target the wider audience on the platform with advertisements to persuade them to vote a certain way. Only part of the data was obtained with consent (!), the data was stored by the app creator (!!), and it was sold to Cambridge Analytica in violation of terms of use (!!!). This was an example of black hat design, a deceptive use of persuasion tactics, combined with unethical use of personal information.

The machine did not misrepresent itself as human, nor did it identify itself as a machine, which, in my book, puts it in a gray area. What’s stopping this from being used in black hat design in the near future?

DRESDEN Polar
On the other hand, the last time you shopped on eBay, you may have noticed the use of multiple design elements encouraging you to buy an item (“last item”, “3 watched in the past day”). While these design techniques are used to persuade users, they are usually not deceptive and are considered white hat techniques.A third example comes from Google I/O 2018 last month when the world heard Google Duplex make a call to a salon for an appointment and carry out a fluent conversation mimicking human mannerisms so well that the person at the other end did not realize she was talking to a machine. The machine did not misrepresent itself as human, nor did it identify itself as a machine, which, in my book, puts it in a gray area. What’s stopping this from being used in black hat design in the near future?
Ethics And New Technology And Interactive MediaThe use of persuasion in traditional media over the past decades has raised questions about the ethical use of persuasion. With new media and pervasive technology, there are more questions about the ethical use of persuasion, some of which are due to the advantages pervasive technology has over traditional media and humans. Anyone using persuasive methods to change people’s minds or behavior should have a thorough understanding of the ethical implications and impact of their work.One of the key responsibilities of a designer during any design process is to be an advocate for the user. This role becomes even more crucial when persuasion techniques are intentionally used in design, since users may be unaware of the persuasion tactics. Even worse, some users may not be capable to detect these tactics, as may be the case with children, seniors or other vulnerable users.