Leading Us By The Nose

Have you noticed the “casual dishonesty” by commercial enterprises on their websites?

Cartoon robber stealing away from laptopWe all know – I hope – that there are some out-and-out villains trying to deceive us online, but many otherwise highly-regarded organisations also appear to be “ethically challenged” online.

You can sign out if you are not you

Take Amazon, for example. If you want to sign out of your Amazon account you need to click on the link at the top of any Amazon page that says “Hello, David, your account” (assuming, of course, that, like me, you are called David). The option that allows you to sign out is at the bottom of the menu that pops up. But it doesn’t say “sign out”, it says “Not David? Sign out”.

Amazon Sign Out Option
The Amazon sign-out. The only way to sign out is to pretend not to be David
The way that I read this is that this option is only for use by someone other than me. Is there any other interpretation that can be put on this? Hence, if I’m a bit overwhelmed by all this stuff I might not want to use this option to sign myself out and might look in vain for an alternative way of doing it. No doubt Amazon would say that they give an option to sign out. My guess is that their weasely wording just nudges the “sign out” rate down a smidgeon, so they can gather even more information from people who have failed to find the non-existent unambiguous sign-out option.

Go, Don’t Go

Green Button
Is this the nice, friendly, button …
A favourite trick is to style the button they want you to click as a green one, and the one they don’t want you to click on as a red one. This looks incredibly crass once you’ve spotted it, but I suppose that the whole point is that you don’t spot it: you only apply a part of your attention to what you are doing and the green button looks safe and suggests “go ahead, this is the safe way forward”. So, the green button is likely to represent “upgrade to the paid version” and the red button means “stick with the free version”.

Red Button
… or is this the one you were looking for?
You wanted to continue with the free version, but before you know it you’ve clicked on the green button and you’re on your way to paying for it.

The Microsoft Upgrade Assistant

I was thrown off balance last week by what semed like similar behaviour by Microsoft. They very helpfully provide a Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant so that you can check to see what problems (or “issues” as everyone calls them these days) you might encounter if you upgrade your existing operating system to Windows 8.

The Upgrade Assistant analyses your current setup and then gives you a report. This divides the results into two sections. The first section is headed “For you to review” and the second section is headed “Compatible”. Included in the first section of my report was an entry with a yellow icon of a “warning triangle” and the text “paid update available”. Given that other items in that section had red crosses and text such as “go to the app website for help”, I think I can forgive myself for believing that Microsoft were telling me that I had to pay for a newer version of the (Microsoft!) product flagged with the yellow warning triangle.

I actually ran the Upgrade Assistant twice on different days. Perhaps I was hoping for a second opinion. Not surprisingly, it gave the same result on both occasions. I decided to bite the bullet as it’s time I got to grips properly with Windows 8 and the only way to do that is to use it for real on my main computer.

Guess what? The “flagged” item runs perfectly happily with Windows 8 (as does almost everything else). No paid update needed. For a few minutes I felt a bit of a ‘nana for letting myself be misled like this. Then I remembered that Microsoft – like all the other major web presences who are trying to lead us by the nose down paths that they choose – are paying lots of intelligent people to tweak web pages to the nth degree so as to get the very best response rates. Why would those people care too much about pushing the boundaries of ethical standards? They’re not standing in front of the end user, looking them in the eye and telling a barefaced lie. No, they’re sitting in front of their computers, tweaking their web designs so as to squeeze out the very last fraction of a percentage point of “response rate” or whatever it is they’re seeking to maximise. Or am I just being too cynical – again?