Tag Archives: ethics

Are You Being Manipulated by E-Commerce Sites?

As on-line shoppers we often depend on the reviews, comments, and purchases by other shoppers to help guide our decision-making. We see how many “likes” a product has received, and if it performed according to the promised description. We might even like to score a great deal on a hot trend that others are snapping up. What does Suzy from San Francisco know that I don’t know?

A common message on shopping sites is that “four other people are looking at this offer right now” or “Suzy from San Francisco just saved $202 on her order!” or “You just missed this great deal!” As it turns out, there often is no “Suzy from San Francisco” online scoping out the same deal as you. The messages are often fake; these are an example of something called “dark patterns,” which are online tactics that manipulate users into doing things that might not otherwise do.

These dark patterns directly benefit the company, not the consumer, and can be regarded by many people as fraud. (This happened to me recently when updating a standard software program – I kept clicking “next” without realizing that it was modifying my computer preferences!)

Lest we regard ourselves as lazy, consider that people do not read every word on every page all the time. We pick up on patterns and make assumptions. A “dark pattern” makes it difficult for the user to do something that does not benefit the company (such as cancelling an account). Companies can use color and design to mislead or trick users. A recent study from Princeton University used software to scan more than 10,000 sites. They found that more than 1,200 of the sites used tactics identified as “dark patterns.”

Here are some examples of dark patterns:

  • Sneak into basket – something is added to your basket because you didn’t opt-out
  • Roach motel – trying to get out of something such as a subscription service
  • Price comparison prevention – that makes it hard to compare the price of an item with another item
  • Disguised ads – that appear as content or navigation in order to gain clicks

Consumers need transparency from companies, not tricks to make us buy more.

Which dark pattern have you experienced?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Poll students. Who checks review prior to buying something online?
  2. View video at Dark Patterns: https://www.darkpatterns.org/
  3. What have been the students’ experiences with dark patterns?
  4. Discuss the ethical considerations of marketing.
  5. Are dark patterns legal? Are dark patterns ethical?
  6. Divide students into teams. Have each team select an e-commerce site and review how to set up an account, cancel an account, and more.
  7. How many of the dark patterns can they find?

Source: Valentino-DeVries, J. (24 June 2019). How e-commerce sites manipulate you into buying things you may not want. New York Times.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Classroom Activities

A&W Canada: No more plastic straws

Look at the photo above. What do you notice about? Yes, it states that “Change is good.” That’s a good thing of course. But, notice what the entire sculpture is made out of – plastic straws! These are the last of A&W Canada’s stock of plastic straws. The Canadian chain has been moving to paper straws over the last few months, and to celebrate the transition, it used its last 140,000 plastic straws to make the 35-foot sculpture.

Last summer, A&W Food Services of Canada promised to reduce landfill by eliminating the plastic straws. It was the first quick-service restaurant chain in North America to make such a bold promise to improve the environment.  The company estimates that the change will keep 82 million plastic straws from littering the oceans and land.

The ban on the plastic straws is one part of the company’s environmental initiatives which include food sources, packaging, energy, water usage, and waste.

Indeed, change IS good.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the impact of environmental concerns on companies.
  2. What are companies doing about these concerns?
  3. View A&W Canada’s Web site values section: https://web.aw.ca/en/our-values
  4. What does this move do for the company’s brand?
  5. Divide students into teams. Have each team research the environmental values of a competing fast-food restaurants (e.g., McDonalds’, Wendy’s, etc.)
  6. How does A&W’s commitment impact its positioning in the marketplace?

Source:  Griner, D. (11 January, 2019). A&W Canada used the last of its plastic straws to make a sculpture announcing the change. AdWeek.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classroom Activities

The World Needs a Better Toilet

In the United States we seldom think about the importance of toilets. Good hygiene and working sewage is just something that the average citizen assumes will always be there, and always work. However, this is not true for the rest of the world where hygiene is a critical health and wellness issue.

More than half of the world’s population – roughly 4.5 billion people – live without access to toilets and the safe sanitation they provide. Estimates are that globally, unsafe sanitation costs the world’s population $223 billion (yes, billion) a year in higher health care costs, lost productivity, and lost wages. It is an issue that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is taking very seriously, pledging $200 million over the past seven years to help reinvent toilets, and pledging another $200 million more to get companies to understand the problem – and business –  of human waste.

At the Reinvented Toilet Expo, held last fall in Beijing, companies showcased new toilets that could recycle water, separate urine from other waste, and even with solar roofs. Mr. Gates told the audience that human waste contains 200 trillion rotavirus particles, 100,000 parasitic worm eggs, and other harmful organisms.

This might not be an easy subject to discuss, and a lot of bad jokes will undoubtable be told in class, but it is an issue that affects the world, and one that product innovation can help to solve.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Discuss the business of waste, sanitation, and fixtures.
  2. What happens when sanitation is poor? What are the impacts?
  3. Show Bill Gates video: https://youtu.be/M9nRsJinHhM
  4. View Gates Foundation site: https://www.gatesfoundation.org/
  5. View Toilets for People for an example of a business: https://www.toiletsforpeople.com/
  6. Have students research other companies with a similar mission and objective.
  7. What social issues matter to the students?

Source: Wee, Sui-Lee (6 Nov. 2018). In China, Bill Gates encourages the world to build a better toilet. New York Times.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classroom Activities