'We're not that gullible!' Revealing 'dark pattern' mental models of 11-12 year-old Scottish children

Renaud, Karen and Sengul, Cigdem and Coopamootoo, Kovila and Clift, Bryan and Taylor, Jacqui and Springett, Mark and Morrison, Benjamin (2024) 'We're not that gullible!' Revealing 'dark pattern' mental models of 11-12 year-old Scottish children. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. ISSN 1073-0516 (https://doi.org/10.1145/3660342)

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Deceptive techniques known as dark patterns specifically target online users. Children are particularly vulnerable as they might lack the skills to recognise and resist these deceptive attempts. To be effective, interventions to forewarn and forearm should build on a comprehensive understanding of children's existing mental models. To this end, we carried out a study with 11-12 year old Scottish children to reveal their mental models of dark patterns. They were acutely aware of online deception, referring to deployers as being 'up to no good'. Yet, they were overly vigilant and construed worst-case outcomes, with even a benign warning triggering suspicion. We recommend that rather than focusing on specific instances of dark patterns in awareness raising, interventions should prioritise improving children's understanding of the characteristics of, and the motivations behind, deceptive online techniques. By so doing, we can help them to develop a more robust defence against these deceptive practices.