The New York Times Derides the Very Dark Patterns It Uses

Nir Eyal
Published in
7 min readMay 14, 2021


‘Dark patterns’ aren’t always malicious mind control. They’re often a symptom of disjointed company culture. Will the Times change?

A recent New York Times op-ed, titled “Stopping the Manipulation Machines,” derided the use of dark patterns: design tricks that push people to do things online by confusing or deliberately inconveniencing them.

Liar, liar, paper on fire.

Kudos to the writer, Greg Bensinger, a member of the Times’ editorial board, who does a laudable job calling out obnoxious dark patterns.

His first target is the Amazon Prime unsubscribe process, which he calls “a labyrinthine process that requires multiple screens and clicks.”

Bensinger claims Amazon deters customers from canceling Prime with a confusing series of steps involving many more screens and clicks than the effortless sign-up process that got them paying $119 per year when they signed up.

The dark pattern Amazon uses is called, “the roach motel,” so named because like the insect trap, people check in but never check out. It’s an example of an unethical design practice because the right thing to do would be to make it as easy to cancel a subscription as it is to start one.

Having written two books on how tech products get us Hooked, I was very familiar with this technique.

I was surprised, however, to find the Times uses the very same dark pattern it derides to prevent its own subscribers from canceling.

Even more intriguing is how this sort of unethical design happens in all sorts of organizations, the Times is just the latest example.

I’ll first explain how the paper uses the roach motel to keep customers from unsubscribing. Then, I’ll dive into how these sorts of ethical lapses happen at corporations and what companies can do to prevent using dark patterns.

How the New York Times roach motel works

Signing up for a NYT subscription is easy — with just a few clicks, anyone can sign up in seconds, without having to interact with a representative.

But canceling your subscription? That’s another story. Take a look at everything I had to do to unsubscribe:



Nir Eyal

Posts may contain affiliate links to my two books, “Hooked” and “Indistractable.” Get my free 80-page guide to being Indistractable at: