Responsible Design Part 9 of 14: Roach Motel

Roach Motel, dark pattern makes it very easy for users to sign up but very difficult to opt out.

Stuti Mazumdar & Symran Bhue

How this pattern gets its name?

This dark pattern gets its name from an American Brand called Roach Motel which is a brand of a roach bait device designed to catch cockroaches. Early versions of the Roach Motel device used food-based bait to trap cockroaches, but later designs incorporated pheromones. The widely popular tagline of the Roach Motel was, “Roaches check-in, but they don’t check out!”

 

How to identify this pattern?

This dark pattern is deceptive and hides information. The metric being prioritised through the Roach Motel dark pattern is retention.

Remember the Eagles song titled Hotel California? There was a line in the song which said, “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!”. This line pretty much sums up the Roach Motel, model of trapping users. Basically, you may get over a subscription or service i.e. check out mentally but you will not be able to unsubscribe from that service or delete your account easily or ever.

 

Examples

Roach Motel is widely used on e-commerce websites as well as social media platforms. In fact, at one point Amazon and LinkedIn were prime examples of websites using this dark pattern to maintain a high retention rate of users. Once users signed up easily on these platforms, it wasn’t as easy to find a way to unsubscribe and even if they did find a way, they had to contact customer care as the platform didn’t have any account deletion mechanism in place. All that has changed now but users will still find it difficult to locate the unsubscribe link on these platforms unless one looks it up in help or search online on how to go about it. But there are still websites that employ this dark pattern and one of them is Nykaa. Nykaa is an Indian e-commerce company founded in 2012 that sells fashion, beauty and wellness products. Now, it is super easy to sign up on Nykaa through your email or phone number, but there is no way to delete your account or remove your details from its database.

Once you go on Nykaa and go to help where usually the instructions are to delete one’s account, Nykaa doesn’t even have a page to provide this information. All Nykaa allows is info on how easy it is to create an account, info connected to orders and queries related to purchases and if you choose to write to them, then there again one needs to provide an order number reference.

 

How to make it an ethical design pattern?

Roach Motel is a deceptive dark pattern that is targeted at trapping users on a platform and as a consequence, not only the user’s data is kept in the database without their will but also the users are spammed constantly about new deals and offers which can be quite annoying.

The only way this design pattern can be implemented ethically is by making the exit or unsubscribe process as simple as the opt-in or subscription process for the users.

It will also be helpful if the opt-out method is not hidden away in some dark corner of the platform which makes it next to impossible for a user to locate it. Finally, the means to delete one’s account should be available on the same platform as the one used to create one’s account. Eliminating unnecessary steps of contacting customer care to delete one’s account can go a long way in fostering subscriber loyalty and maintaining retention.

Stuti Mazumdar

Stuti Mazumdar

Experience Design Lead at Think Design, Stuti is a post graduate in Communication Design. She likes to work at the intersection of user experience and communication design to craft digital solutions that advance products and brands.

Symran Bhue

Symran Bhue

I am a Digital Marketing Strategist by profession and an Artist by interest. An IT Engineer, an Artist/Design enthusiast and an MBA in Strategy and Finance, I understand things from Technology, Design as well as Business perspective.

 

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