January 25, 2017

What do you call a dark pattern that isn’t that dark?

Today, when opening a link from the Gmail iOS app that I recently installed (as per my usual behavior, I’ve been hopping around emails apps regularly) I ran into this odd behavior by the Gmail app.

Gmail’s annoying browser dialogGmail’s annoying browser dialog

When opening a link from the app, Google has inserted an interstitial dialog box asking you which Browser you would like Gmail to open.

First, I don’t have Chrome for iOS installed. Thus, showing me this dialog asking me to choose browsers is an advertisement for their browser. This would be fine if phrased as Look, we have Chrome for iOS now!” But it isn’t.

Second, the dark pattern emerges when you see that their default setting for this dialog is to ask me each time.

Google thinks it’s appropriate to remind me each time I click a link in their email program that they have a web browser they would also like me to download. That way it becomes a conscious choice to open Safari and not download Chrome. It’s an annoying and ugly user experience choice. Ugh.

Understand, this small tweak will increase downloads of their Chrome for iOS app, but this dialog is not automatically dismissed after selecting Safari once or twice. (Which I think was their original behavior, which has changed.)

If I had Chrome installed, I also might feel differently. Google could ask upon opening Chrome if I would like all Google apps to use Chrome as the default browser, then save those details to my Google Account. That setting would then propagate to Gmail and other Google owned apps. (Perhaps, even third parties authenticated with my Google account could sync that detail down.)

I know it’s not as bad as Microsoft’s dark pattern usage that got them into a court case with their users, but this is pretty damn annoying.


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