Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Network Solutions and Yet More Dark Patterns

In late 2012 I related my extreme displeasure of trying to register a domain through the intentionally confusing Network Solutions ecommerce flow. In my post, Network Solutions and Dark Patterns, I used a whole lot of screen captures to show the convoluted flow that I believe Network Solutions uses to trick its customers into agreeing to add-on services (and cost).

I noticed a fresh one today as I had to go in and renew a personal domain and quickly recognized that it behooves you as the customer to read every piece of text Network Solutions puts on the screen, else you'll agree to things you did not intend. I walk through the process below (in far fewer screens than last time).

Upon Signing In

Screenshot of Network Solutions login flow.
The screen immediately after logging in, with a form asking for contact verification.

As soon as I sign in, Network Solutions wants me to verify my contact information. This makes sense to me. After all, it's hard to notify someone that his/her domain name is about to expire when he/she has changed email addresses and not updated it here.

The text is straightforward:

To ensure that you receive essential information about your account and services, please confirm the contact information that we have on record for you.

Now the First Pitch

Screenshot of Network Solutions login flow.
This screen is trying to get me to add the Private Registration service. Note the red italic style in the graphic for the word exposed.

Unsurprisingly, I am asked to buy into Network Solutions' obfuscation service. Using scary language, this is the first pitch to try to get me to add some services:

Your name, phone number, and address are listed in the public WHOIS database for your domain(s).

Apply Private Registration to your domain(s) to safeguard your personal information.

The phone book, among many other public databases, has had my information on file for years. I can skip this and its undisclosed costs.

Check Your Contact Information

This is where it goes all wrong.

Screenshot of Network Solutions login flow.
This screen is ostensibly asking me to verify my email and phone number, but a careful read shows that's not the case.

Now I am presented with a screen asking me to Check [My] Contact Information. On my first visit to this page I was just about to click the submit button when I remembered that I had already confirmed my contact information when I logged into the site. So I opted to read the opening sentence:

Please confirm the contact information for Adrian Roselli to ensure that you receive important communications about your account.

Yep, this sounds like what I already did. Time to read the small print at the bottom:

* By submitting the contact information above, you expressly consent to Web.com and its affiliates contacting you regarding your services and offering new services via the contact information you provide (including your mobile number), via an automatic telephone dialing system or pre-recorded call. You are not required to give consent in order to make a purchase with us or our affiliates and you can find additional information in our Privacy Policy. Click here to remove your consent.

I emphasized the hyperlinks above. Affiliates. Privacy Policy. Click here. That last one is key. You have to click here to remove your consent. It's carefully hidden (note the red arrow in the screen shot above) behind the awful link text click here and suggests that I am already opted in.

Screenshot of Network Solutions login flow.
I reproduce the small text on this screen below.

As I dutifully click there, the content expands to show me the following checkbox — which is unchecked:

I do not consent to Web.com and its affiliates contacting me through automated telephone dialing systems, pre-recorded calls or text messages on my mobile phone, or through pre-recorded calls on my residential line.

As I read that text I realize I am giving Network Solutions, and anyone it and Web.com deem worthy, the right to send me text messages. I note that because many people have to pay for their text messages. The robo-calls are just as annoying, of course, but I personally take umbrage with the text message approach.

Screenshot of Network Solutions login flow.
Apparently I cannot not submit information.

I check the box and, just to be on the safe side, clear my phone number before I submit the form. I get this seemingly offshore-call-center-poorly-localized error message:

Please, fill the empty fields.

Once I enter a number again I am allowed to continue and am thanked with this absurd message:

Screenshot of Network Solutions login flow.
Processing…

To be fair, that's not a dark pattern. However, waiting an additional 5-6 seconds after wasting a few minutes with this stupid process of trickery just to see an animated GIF imply that whatever is happening in the background must be so important to also affect my ability to spend my money warrants some mocking. Deep breath.

Conclusion

Network Solutions may be less evil than some other registrars (sideways glance at the despicable GoDaddy), but by all means read every piece of text and every button before you sign away your text message limits or, as in my previous post, end up paying for services you cannot cancel.

By the way, if I do accidentally give my permission, I challenge you to find where in the interface I can revoke that permission.

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