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Consumer affairs dept asks online platforms to not use 'dark patterns'

The Consumer Affairs dept advised online platform to not engage in 'unfair trade practices' by incorporating dark patterns in their online interface to manipulate consumer choice

Shopping app, E-commerce

BS Web Team New Delhi

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The Department of Consumer Affairs on Friday urged online platforms to refrain from incorporating any design or pattern in the online interface of their platform that may deceive or manipulate consumer choice and fall under the category of dark patterns.

In a letter addressed to major online platforms, Rohit Kumar Singh, Secretary, the Department of Consumer Affairs strongly advised online platforms to not engage in ‘unfair trade practices’ by incorporating dark patterns in their online interface to manipulate consumer choice and violate ‘consumer rights’ as enshrined under Section 2(9) of the Consumer Protection Act, 2019.

Recently, regulators in other jurisdictions such as the European Union  (EU), US, and UK have taken action against dark patterns involving unfair and deceptive practices in online interfaces which were found to be detrimental to consumers.

The activities which the platforms were observed to be indulging include:
  • Non-consensual enrolment in subscription programs (USA)
  • Pressure selling using misleading countdown clock (UK)
  • Secretly saving credit card information and charging users without consent (USA)
  • Putting in place a cancellation process designed to deter consumers from opting out of subscription (Norway).

Major types of Dark Patterns

1. False urgency
This tactic creates a sense of urgency or scarcity to pressure consumers into making a purchase or taking action.

2. Basket sneaking
Websites or apps use dark patterns to add additional products or services to the shopping cart without user consent.

3. Subscription traps
This tactic makes it easy for consumers to sign up for a service but difficult for them to cancel it, often by hiding the cancellation option or requiring multiple steps.

4. Confirm shaming
It involves guilt as a way to make consumers adhere. It criticizes or attacks consumers for not conforming to a particular belief or viewpoint.

5. Forced action

This involves forcing consumers into taking an action they may not want to take, such as signing up for a service in order to access content.

6. Nagging
It refers to persistent, repetitive, and annoyingly constant criticism, complaints, and requests for action.

7. Interface interference
This tactic involves making it difficult for consumers to take certain actions, such as canceling a subscription or deleting an account.

8. Bait and switch
This involves advertising one product or service but delivering another, often of lower quality.

9. Hidden costs
This tactic involves hiding additional costs from consumers until they are already committed to making a purchase.

10. Disguised ads
Disguised ads are advertisements that are designed to look like other types of content, such as news articles or user-generated content.

With the growing penetration of the internet and rising smartphone usage in India, consumers are increasingly choosing e-commerce as the preferred mode of shopping. In such a scenario, it is essential that online platforms do not indulge in unfair trade practices by incorporating dark patterns which result in a harmful or undesirable outcome for the consumer, Singh suggested.

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First Published: Jun 30 2023 | 7:10 PM IST

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