Jasmine McNealy Co-Creates “I, Obscura,” a Zine Focused on Dark Patterns
Jasmine McNealy, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications Media Production, Management, and Technology associate professor and associate director of the Marion B. Brechner First Amendment Project, is co-creator of “I, Obscura” a dark pattern zine that launched to the public on July 15, 2021.
The zine, created through a collaboration between UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Inquiry and Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society Digital Civil Society Lab (DCSL), is intended to be a resource to highlight, educate, and engage practitioners and researchers on dark patterns in industries ranging from financial services and smart home devices to related children’s technologies.
At Stanford, they’ll also pilot an academic seminar on deceptive designs, centered on tangible technological or policy-informing outputs, where students can apply their research, technical, design, and policy skills.
According to McNealy and co-creator Stephanie T. Nguyen, a designer and public interest technologist, “I, Obscura hopes to illuminate dark design patterns by telling stories. A compilation of case studies, this zine offers readers a set of dark pattern examples, along with possible design and policy solutions. These examples assist with demystifying deceptive design of the possible harms to individuals, and to prompt policymakers to action.”
The zine features manipulative patterns that companies use to trick unsuspecting users into doing what they want. It includes nine case studies, ranging from hidden cancellation fees and online games purchases to subtle forms of advertising creating user deception. For each case, they provide a context, define a pattern with an illustration, and explain the direct harms to people.
McNealy and Nguyen worked with a team of researchers and students from Stanford’s Digital Civil Society Lab (DCSL) and UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Inquiry to collect, describe, and illustrate case studies for the zine. Stanford’s DCSL Director Lucy Bernholz said that “the zine itself – and the practices that went into creating it – will be great pedagogical resources for studying dark patterns.”