Blog Post

A new frontier of scams - predatory tech and newcomers

By: Marco Campana
July 13, 2021

This is a really interesting article about predatory tech and newcomers:

In my work I see a lot of examples of dark patterns. More often than not, those dark patterns are not added with the explicit intent of misleading the user - they are just so normalized the designer doesn't even think of them as problematic. Which is a serious industry-wide problem we need to deal with before lawmakers do (or are already doing).

This though, is a whole new level. This is deliberate predation on a vulnerable user base. Someone sat down and thought "how do I increase the chance of a user buying the premium version of my app" and then instead of making a better learning experience for the user chose to create a user experience where the user is made to feel like they are going to fail what might be the most important exam of their life unless they pay up.

This article is about predatory Canadian Citizenship preparation apps that charge fees for information that's not even needed. But they're slick in their marketing and design, so they lure people in to pay for more. Most funded Canadian immigrant and refugee-serving organizations as well as libraries offer Citizenship classes, courses, even online (if not app) preparation (see, and more here on Settlement.Org).

Sadly, predatory use of technology on newcomers to Canada is not new, just rolling with the times. Over a decade ago I tracked an email scam offering people "North American Citizenship" that was sophisticated and apparently lucrative enough to offer in-person services "around the corner" from the Canadian Consulate in New Delhi and a Canadian bank account (big 5 bank) to deposit your fees into. It was wild.

I wonder how open Apple and Google would be to reporting these apps for their predatory practices.

Although, in some ways, it's not that different from some predatory for-profit consultants or companies offering government-funded services that can be accessed for free.

Which, to me, raises another potential "UX" or customer experience challenge.

The customer experience challenge here is that folks like this article's author, perhaps more self-directed, self-reliant likely may not have ever thought of accessing these service providers, etc., wouldn't think or know they could access government funded, legitimate, services like these to help prepare for their Citizenship test.

What can our sector do to "lure people in" to provide the appearance that we're for all, that our services and information are not only authoritative, accurate, up to date, and useful, but also competitive with these slick predatory app developers and others?

The author replied to me on LinkedIn to say: "I was aware of the classes etc on offer, but since this is 'just' a 20 question multiple-choice exam and I've lived in Canada for 19 years already, taking a class seemed like overkill. A simple app to practice is a much lower bar, and much lower investment. Using an app was suggested by several friends from the US who got Canadian citizenship over the past few years. It will be really interesting to see what happens when the government rolls out a new version of Discover Canada, and by extension a new version of the exam."

Which, to me, solidified my question about what the sector can do to combat these types of predatory tech approaches? How can we not only build trust, but also engage newcomers who don't typically access our services in part because they don't need a full service, just a little nudge?

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