Bait and Switch

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The user sets out to do one thing, but a different, undesirable thing happens instead. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it is very broad in nature – many dark patterns involve some kind of bait & switch.

Example: (September 2010)

When originally launched, it was pitched as a "YouTube for documents". The "Free" end of its original Freemium business model allowed users to upload and view documents in an unlimited capacity, making money from display advertising. All of a sudden, in September 2010, put a substantial chunk of user uploads behind a paywall (see Eric Goldman's reaction: Scribd Puts My Old Uploads Behind a Paywall and Goes Onto My Shitlist). After a sizable negative public reaction, Scribd posted an apology, and changed its UI design slightly, to provide what they claim as "Clear opt-out" and "Proactive messaging". In other words, they now provide users with a way to circumvent the paywall, if they have the patience and the ability to navigate through the site. is listed as using a Bait and Switch pattern, since the grounds upon which end users are invited to upload content ("...upload your PDF, Word, and PowerPoint docs to share them with the world's largest community of readers." as advertised on the homepage) are somewhat different to the reality of the situation users find themselves in after uploading. - post upload page

Above you can see the page a user reaches at the end of the document upload journey. Rather than presenting any UI controls to allow the user to opt in/out at this point, they present an obscurely-worded information box, and a link to "Account settings", which the user needs to proactively click in order reach the UI controls. The text of the information box is:-

The Scribd Archive is a program that encourages users to give back to the Scribd community by uploading their own docs in order to download older documents. Downloaders may also choose to contribute a small fee for access to The Scribd Archive if they prefer. You can remove ALL of your documents from The Scribd Archive and prevent any of your future uploads from entering The Scribd Archive by opting out of the program completely in your Account Settings.

When a new user attempts to download a file, they are asked to either upload a file first (thus increasing the size of's document library), or pay for access.

Example: (September 2010)

When a user visits homepage, they see the claim "The best way to find only £50k+ jobs". Underneath this heading is a prominent search form. Homepage

The search UI is essentially a decoy: users cannot search until they have registered (see below). However, registration has a free option that allows users to "Browse ONLY £50,000 plus jobs!" (quoting from screengrab below). This sounds fair enough, but it is very misleading, as you will see shortly. Registration form

Having registered, users are asked to import or create a CV (as shown in the following two screengrabs). It appears to be a mandatory part of registering - so most people will go ahead and publish their CVs, willing to jump through any hoops in order to see these enticing £50K+ jobs. CVs have a cash value for the site owners - each CV is added to their CV database, and access to that database is sold to recruiters for £349 a week. CV Publishing appears to be a mandatory step in the registration process the second step of CV publishing involves form-filling.

Finally the user finds themselves in the logged-in area of the site. You can imagine they must be chomping at the bit now, really wanting to find and apply for some of those elusive £50k+ jobs. Looking at the screengrab below, let's imagine that the user thinks the "Managing Consultant" job seems to be a good fit. search results for a logged-in user.

So what happens when the user clicks the "Managing Consultant" link? Let's see (below)... free membership does not seem to allow users to view job details nor apply for jobs.

We've hit a paywall - the user has to now set up a monthly payment before they are allowed to see the job details or apply for the job. What happened to the "free" membership deal? It turns out, free only applied to the act of searching for jobs and viewing search results, but not viewing jobs. The problem for here is that UK law forbids companies from charging job-seekers to view or apply for job ads (refer to The Conduct of Employment Agencies Act for details). So how does circumvent this problem? They make it possible for users to view & apply for free, but they bury this option in a subsection of the user's account area (account settings > my ladders), as shown below:

To avoid breaking the law, allows users to view job ads for free - however, this option is very hard to find.

Having ticked "Allow me to apply to Jobs and Contact Recruiters for free", the user will expect it will be plain sailing from here on. Not so. If the user now goes back to the "managing consultant job listing, and clicks on the hyperlink, they are taken to this page (below):

This page looks like the paywall again, except now there is a tiny "No Thanks" link at the bottom of the page.

If the user clicks the tiny "No thanks" link, they can eventually get to the job ad. Let's see what happens when they click "apply now":

iFramed external content that is available freely elsewhere on the web.

We are now looking at an external site, wrapped in an iFrame. In other words, this ad is available for free elsewhere on the web, is simply linking to it. It is not clear at the time of writing how much of the content on is in fact freely available elsewhere on the web.

Example: Nike’s world cup 2010 Facebook advert (May 2010)

As reported by Paul Adams (“Hey Nike, Get your crap out of my newsfeed”), in May 2010 Nike used a rather nefarious tactic of forcing users to click “Like” in order to see a World-cup football video. As a naïve user, “Like” doesn’t quite do what you’d expect – rather than just indicating to your friends that you like something, you are actually gives that thing permission to put content into your news feed (in this case, an advertisement). Savvy users have come to understand that clicking “like” can have this effect – however, this is some distance away from a user’s initial expectation.

First, users are required to click the “like” button in order to view the desired video

Clicking “like” causes this to appear in the user’s news feed.

Example: (May 2011)

As reported by Phil Freo (" not acting so honestly"). uses a tactic to bait unregistered users into thinking they received an anonymous review from someone in their social graph. Only after registering, "opting in" and disclosing their social graph, the user finds out there is no review.

Someone created a profile of you! Click "View your profile" to see a review

It goes something like this... an email is sent to a prospective user with the subject of “Someone created a profile for you…” (or similar verbiage), which leaves the impression that someone has left a public review about the user. Upon clicking the link to the user's only option is to login with Facebook and give Honestly their Facebook info and a list of all the friends with the intention that the user will see a review. After completing the process, the user learns that there is no review.

The "Process"

  1. Login to Facebook
  2. Get your email address
  3. Try to get your email contacts
  4. Try to get your LinkedIn contacts
  5. "Like" them on Facebook. Specifically, they reveal this statement: “Review text will be available after you like us on Facebook.”
Step 5: “Review text will be available after you like us on Facebook.”

The result: no review.

No review.  :/
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2012-10-05 / 09:30:25 UTC