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Chapter 9: Forcing and blocking

Forcing typically involves putting a mandatory step in front of the action the user wants to complete, which they cannot decline. Blocking involves preventing the user from doing the thing they want to do. For example, if a user wants to export their data, the business prevents it by simply not offering this feature, or mentioning it anywhere. In turn this locks in the user, and makes it impossible for them to leave without saying goodbye to their data.

Perhaps some of the most famous examples of forcing and blocking are in the use of coffee pod machines and printer ink.

Coffee machine manufacturer Keurig is well known for its K-Cup pod machines that require the user to insert a specially designed ‘brew pod’ for every cup of coffee they make. After being on the market for a while, some competitors created copies of the Keurig pods, allowing consumers to choose who to buy their coffee from. This bothered Keurig, as it was eating into its profits; their business model was to sell the machine at a relatively low price, and then to lock in consumers, making long-term profit from them as they were forced to buy all their coffee from Keurig. In 2015, Keurig’s response to this was to add digital rights management (DRM) to their pods and machines. This involved putting radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips on every pod, so that the machine could check whether the pod was manufactured by Keurig or by a competitor.

Amusingly, this backfired as customers created YouTube videos and guides showing how to circumvent the DRM – all you needed to do was...

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Since 2010, Harry Brignull has dedicated his career to understanding and exposing the techniques that are employed to exploit users online, known as “deceptive patterns” or “dark patterns”. He is credited with coining a number of the terms that are now popularly used in this research area, and is the founder of the website He has worked as an expert witness on a number of cases, including Nichols v. Noom Inc. ($56 million settlement), and FTC v. Publishers Clearing House LLC ($18.5 million settlement). Harry is also an accomplished user experience practitioner, having worked for organisations that include Smart Pension, Spotify, Pearson, HMRC, and the Telegraph newspaper.